An estimated 7.8% of all Americans will experience PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) in their lifetime, with women (10.4%) twice as likely as men (5%) to develop PTSD.
Individuals who develop PTSD are prone to nightmares and flashbacks, feelings of detachment, and difficulty sleeping. These negative symptoms can be severe enough to significantly impact a person’s ability to interact in their day to day life.
What causes PTSD?
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that occurs after witnessing a life-threatening event such as:
- serious road accidents
- violent personal assaults, such as sexual assault, mugging or robbery
- witnessing violent deaths
- military combat
- terrorist attacks
- natural disasters, such as floods, earthquakes or tsunamis
- an unexpected severe injury
- or death of a close family member or friend
PTSD develops in about 1 in 3 people who experience severe trauma and is marked by different symptoms that include reliving the trauma and the development of different disorders such as depression, substance abuse, long and short-term memory problems, and other physical and mental health problems.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classifies PTSD as an anxiety disorder that includes three main symptoms: re-experiencing, avoidance, and hyperarousal.
Re-experiencing includes recurrent and intrusive recollections of the event, including images, thoughts, or perceptions when exposed to internal or external cues. This often results in reliving the experience through illusions, hallucinations, and dissociative flashback episodes.
Avoidance includes persistent efforts to avoid thoughts, activities, places, people, feelings, or conversations associated with the trauma and marked feelings of detachment or estrangement from others as well as feelings of “numbness” where those afflicted report an inability to have loving feelings.
Symptoms of hyperarousal include difficulty falling or staying asleep, irritability with outbursts of anger, trouble concentrating, exaggerated startle responses, and symptoms of hypervigilance and paranoia.
How Does Acupuncture Help?
PTSD presents a complex problem, to counteract this, the Pentagon is seeking new ways to treat troops suffering from combat stress or brain damage by researching such alternative methods as acupuncture, meditation, yoga, and the use of animals as therapy. In 2008, the Pentagon spent $5 million to study these therapies.
Acupuncture treats PTSD by harmonizing the mental and energetic imbalances that cause the condition. PTSD is treated as a state of shock that needs to be cleared out of the nervous system and body—acupuncture targets this by stabilizing the pulse of a patient by stimulating specific acupoints. These points are responsible for controlling specific brain areas that control nervous functions as well as mitigate stress levels.
“Point prescription” has become the preferred mode of treatment because it allows for individual variation. The standard treatment will detail a holistic set of points that need stimulation through acupuncture, but, these can then be customized to suit individual cases. For example, persons with severe PTSD symptoms will require different forms of acupuncture when compared to those with milder symptoms.
The use of acupuncture for PTSD has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety levels and stress in individuals. These forms of treatments help affected individuals to regain composure in daily life activities because it is less intrusive than conventional psychiatric treatments that are exposure oriented.
Is This Scientifically Supported?
With the Pentagon’s endorsement, studies assessing acupuncture’s role in mitigating individual symptoms of PTSD, such as migraines, anxiety, depression, and insomnia, as well as the effects of acupuncture on the limbic system are becoming more common.
One published randomized clinical trial of acupuncture as a treatment for PTSD reported that acupuncture was superior to traditional psychiatric trials and was able to treat veteran and civilian PTSD. These initial resulting studies unanimously showed positive results for the use of acupuncture in effectively reducing patients’ depression and anxiety. None of the studies produced showed any evidence of adverse effects for the use of acupuncture in the treatment of PTSD.
Current research on the use of acupuncture for the treatment of PTSD is minimal, but, there is enough to suggest that acupuncture may be a highly effective treatment option for PTSD. New trials show that the use of acupuncture for PTSD demonstrated significant reductions in PTSD symptoms scores from baseline to end-treatment in the acupuncture group. Additionally, acupuncture treated symptoms of depression, anxiety, and impairment which is a huge step moving forward.
– Written by Rebeca Alvarado
Also published on Medium.