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Acupuncture Treatment For Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is disturbing, distressing and unfair. It is an anxiety disorder that affects about a quarter of people who have experienced a life trauma. The person’s brain is unable to properly and entirely process the trauma. As a result, the person can retrigger and re-live memories or emotions of the trauma continuously.

While trauma is difficult for everyone to live through, for those with PTSD, these symptoms do not fade away after 2-4 weeks. The person is left feeling like they cannot move on with their lives.  Symptoms include:

  • Flashbacks – Memories of the trauma that intrude on everyday life
  • Disassociation – Episodes of feeling frozen and removed from the current situation (usually due to feeling a large amount of fear)
  • Hypervigilance – Feeling constantly on edge and needing to protect oneself from the world
  • Easily triggered emotions – irritability, fear, frustration, anger, sadness,
  • Anxiety – Worry, fear, confusion, nervousness and tightness in the chest
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Pain and stiffness – muscle tension, joint stiffness
Post-traumatic stress disorder

Treatment for PTSD is still evolving. First-line treatment involves counselling and anti-depressants or sedatives. These can be very useful as the medication can reduce the severity of the symptoms until the psychotherapy allows the person to understand and process the trauma.

However, many people are still searching for a more effective treatment.

Acupuncture is increasingly being used to assist in the treatment of PTSD. In the USA, the Veteran’s Affairs department offers Acupuncture as an adjunct therapy for PTSD. Acupuncture has been popular for returning servicemen as some people do not respond to talking therapies and prefer not to take medication due to the side-effects. It can also be a beneficial treatment, working alongside other therapies.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: How Acupuncture Can Help 

Acupuncture is based on a holistic Chinese Medicine approach to human conditions. It places less emphasis on the separation between the mind and the body.  However, acupuncture is not a ‘talking therapy’, rather it affects change in the person’s mind, body and spirit by placing a series of needles in chosen points.

Acupuncture has been shown to be effective in treating anxiety disorders due to its’ effect of the release of neurotransmitters that:

  • Produce a profound sense of relaxation
  • Calm the autonomic nervous system
  • Improve sleep
  • Reduce pain and tension in the body
  • Reduce panic

Frequently, patients report that they feel more like themselves.

As acupuncture produces a profound relaxation, it allows the body and brain time to strengthen its own healing response. This includes strengthening neural pathways for a stronger parasympathetic nervous response (or the rest-and-digest mode).

Post-traumatic stress disorder


Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: Auricular Acupuncture

Auricular acupuncture has been shown effective in treating PTSD. Auricular acupuncture involves needles around the ear.  Auriculotherapy was developed by a French doctor and is used by registered acupuncturists, GPs, drug and alcohol workers as well as military doctors. (Koffmann, 2013)

The ear is particularly useful in acupuncture, as it is supplied by a number of different nerves and blood vessels. It was also created very early in embryonic development, so it involves endoderm, ectoderm and mesodermic tissues. This means it is highly connected to the rest of the body.

Auriculotherapy has been shown with functional MRI scans to stimulate and downregulate different parts of the brain, including the hippocampus and amygdala. Changing blood supply to different parts of the brain is a physical therapy that allows repair and changes in cognitive and behaviour patterns. (Jackson, 2014)

It is increasingly used to assist in processing trauma and reducing:

  • flashbacks
  • insomnia
  • pain and tension

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: Research

Brief exposure to acupuncture significantly improved the symptoms of PTSD when compared with the usual care in a randomised controlled trial involving 55 veterans.

Compared with usual care, acupuncture was associated with significantly greater decreases in PTSD symptoms on CAPS and PCL-C*, and these improvements were maintained through the 12-week follow-up. The mean PCL-C decreases were 19.4 at the end of treatment and 19.8 at the 12-week follow-up in the acupuncture group, compared with 4.0 and 9.7 in the usual care group. (Wendling, 2008) 

A systematic review covering acupuncture’s efficacy across a broad range of components of Traumatic Spectrum Response looked at 1,480 citations, with 52 systematic reviews/meta-analyses, all high quality except for one, was assessed.

Based on the results, acupuncture appears to be effective for treating headaches and, although more research is needed, seems to be a promising treatment option for anxiety, sleep disturbances, depression and chronic pain. It does not, however, demonstrate any substantial treatment benefit for substance abuse. More quality data are also needed to determine whether acupuncture is appropriate for treating fatigue or cognitive difficulties.  (Lee et al. 2012)

Post-traumatic stress disorder

If you would like to have a confidential conversation about post-traumatic stress disorder, please feel free to call us on 1300 432 639, or contact us at www.SustainHealth.com.au/Contact.

References

Anxiety Recovery Centre Victoria (2012). Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Booklet. Available at:http://www.arcvic.org.au

Chalmers, J. Modern Auricular Therapy: A Brief History and the Discovery of the Vascular Autonomic Signal. Journal of Chinese Medicine, Number 84 • June 2007

Ford, J. PTSD is the Amygdala hijacking Joe’s Brain. Psychology Today, 7 December 2012 http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hijacked-your-brain/201212/ptsd-is-the-amygdala-hijacking-joe-s-brain

Jackson, K. Treatment for Veterans with PTSD – Outside the Traditional Toolbox. Social Work Today. Vol 14, No.2, P 18. Mach/April 2014

Koffman, L. et al. Acupuncture and PTSD: ‘Come for the Needles, Stay for the Therapy.’ FAAMA Psychiatric Annals May 2013 – Volume 43 · Issue 5: 236-239

http://www.healio.com/psychiatry/journals/psycann/2013-5-43-5/%7Bbb994f03-c700-429e-8e2e-9ecb759f665b%7D/acupuncture-and-ptsd-come-for-the-needles-stay-for-the-therapy

Lee et al. The effectiveness of acupuncture research across components of trauma spectrum response (tsr): a systematic review of reviews. Systematic Reviews 2012, 1:46

http://www.systematicreviewsjournal.com/content/1/1/46

Pease, M. et al. Acupuncture for refugees with Posttraumatic Stress disorder: Initial experiences establishing a community clinic. EXPLORE January/February 2009, Vol. 5, No. 1, p-51-54

Medina, J. Neurobiology of PTSD. Psychiatric Times, 1 Feb 2008

http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/articles/neurobiology-ptsd

Wendling, P. Traditional acupuncture improves PTSD symptoms in veterans. Clinical Psychiatry News. 36.12 (Dec. 2008): p10.

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