PTSD: What it is

PTSD are the initials that stand for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a severe type of anxiety disorder.

PTSD results from a person witnessing or being involved in a traumatic event that causes intense fear, helplessness or horror. Traumatic events include a natural disaster, rape, childhood abuse, a tragic accident or war.

Diagnostic manuals say that signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder typically begin within three months of a traumatic event, however in some instances symptoms occur years after the event.

The symptoms of PTSD are commonly grouped into three categories:

  1. Intrusive memories – flashbacks and nightmares of events.
  2. Avoidance and numbing – feeling emotionally numb, hopelessness about the future, avoiding anything that is a reminder of the precipitating event.
  3. Hyperarousal –  increased anxiety, irritability or anger, self-destructive behavior (i.e. excessive drinking),  and an exaggerated startle response (jumping at sounds).

Acupuncture as Treatment for PTSD

In recent years, acupuncture has been getting more attention as a treatment for PTSD, particularly from military and veteran populations. Soldiers are at a high risk for suffering from PTSD after serving in combat.

How does acupuncture help the symptoms of PTSD? Acupuncture is well known for its ability to relieve stress. Correctly placed needles help the body re-regulate itself from the effects of stress, PTSD, depression and anxiety. In turn, this allows the individual to focus on their activities and enable them to deal with daily events.

Acupuncturists Without Borders (AWB), a group that provided relief to the survivors of the earthquake in Haiti and hurricane in New Orleans, launched The Military Stress Recovery Project. The organization provides free acupuncture treatments for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as their families. Treated military personnel report improved mental clarity, less anxiety and a reduction in stress. “Acupuncture is helping me get my life back,” says R. Rojas, a recipient of the treatments.

Acupuncture Research and PTSD

There are good precedents for AWB’s use of acupuncture to treat PTSD.

  • At the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Michael Hollifield, M.D., and colleagues conducted a clinical trial examining the effects of acupuncture on the symptoms of PTSD. Researchers analyzed depression, anxiety, and impairment in 73 people who had been diagnosed with PTSD. The participants were assigned to receive either acupuncture, group cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) a popular psychological treatment for PTSD, for 12 weeks, or were assigned to a wait-list (the control group). Subjects in the control group were offered treatment or referral for treatment at the end of their participation.Researchers found that acupuncture provided treatment effects similar to group cognitive-behavioral therapy. Both acupuncture and CBT were superior to the control group. Additionally, treatment effects of acupuncture and group therapy were maintained for 3 months after the end of treatment. The limitations are the size of the study, lack of diversity, and inability to account for outside factors.1Pentagon tries aroma therapy to ease combat stress. Fort Riley, Kansas, Sat May 8, 2010
  • More recently, Reuters published an article that quoted Defense Secretary Robert Gates as saying, “We have an experimental unit … treating soldiers with PTS (post-traumatic stress) and using a number of unorthodox approaches, including aroma therapy, acupuncture, things like that, that really are getting some serious results.”2Hollifield, M., Sinclair-Lian, N., Warner, T., and Hammerschlag, R. “Acupuncture for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial.” The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, June, 2007 V195(6):504-13
  • At the Walter Reed Medical Center, a military hospital, has begun to investigate acupuncture as a viable treatment for returning veterans.

Acupuncture: Promising Relief for those Suffering from PTSD

Suicide rates and homelessness among U.S. soldiers and returning veterans are climbing. These tragic statistics can be partly attributed to the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. The results from acupuncture are hopeful. Time and again, acupuncture has proven to be an effective modality for treating the symptoms of PTSD.