PTSD, or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, is a mental health condition caused by exposure to an overwhelming and adverse event. Symptoms of PTSD are cited in the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual* as occurring when one has had exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation.
Criteria for PTSD–Exposure
Exposure to trauma may occur in several ways:
- Direct exposure–the person is in danger of death, injury or sexual assault, or is actually injured or assaulted.
- Witnessing another in danger of injury, sexual violence or death; or witnessing another who is actually injured, victimized with sexual violence, or killed.
- Indirect exposure–learning that a close relative or friend has experienced an incident in which there was actual or threatened death by violent or accidental means.
- Repeated or extreme indirect exposure–being exposed to aversive details of the event(s), usually in the course of professional duties (e.g., first responders, forensic personnel, professionals repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse).
Symptoms of PTSD
The symptoms of PTSD occur along a continuum of mild to severe. They include:
Symptoms of Re-experiencing the trauma such as:
- Recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive memories.
- Traumatic nightmares.
- Dissociative reactions (e.g., flashbacks) which may occur on a continuum from brief episodes to complete loss of consciousness.
- Intense or prolonged distress after exposure to traumatic reminders.
Symptoms of Avoidance such as:
- Making a persistent effort to avoid trauma-related thoughts or feelings, or reminders of the trauma (people, places, conversations, activities, objects, or situations, for example).
Symptoms of Cognitive and Mood Changes that begin or worsen after the traumatic event such as:
- Inability to recall key features of the traumatic event (usually dissociative amnesia; not due to head injury, alcohol, or drugs).
- Persistent (and often distorted) negative beliefs and expectations about oneself or the world (e.g., “I am bad,” “The world is completely dangerous”).
- Persistent distorted blame of self or others for causing the traumatic event or for resulting consequences.
- Persistent negative trauma-related emotions (e.g., fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame).
- Markedly diminished interest in (pre-traumatic) significant activities.
- Feeling alienated from others (e.g., detachment or estrangement).
- Constricted affect: persistent inability to experience positive emotions.
Symptoms of Reactivity that begin or worsen after the traumatic event such as:
- Irritable or aggressive behavior
- Self-destructive or reckless behavior
- Exaggerated startle response
- Problems in concentration
- Sleep disturbance
Acupuncture and PTSD Research
Research into the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating PTSD has proven acupuncture to be an appropriate and effective treatment for the condition. Trials in combat-exposed veterans and the general population have both shown positive results.
It is important to note that while PTSD is often linked to combat experiences, there are many causes of PTSD including physical, sexual, emotional and mental abuse; deprivation, abandonment and other forms of neglect; natural and man-made disasters, accidents, kidnapping, traumatic loss (this is not an all-inclusive list).
The severity of PTSD varies from individual to individual and over the course of time in an individual’s life. The dynamics of all PTSD are similar, however.
Some military research has shown:
- Compared to usual PTSD care, a four week course of twice weekly TCM acupuncture resulted in significantly greater improvements in… PTSD symptoms… Depression and pain symptoms… Mental health functioning… —Efficacy of Acupuncture for PTSD in Military Personnel: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Charles C. Engel, MD, MPH
- As per findings from recent trials, it has been found that combat veterans were relieved of their symptoms and experienced reduced depression, as well as pain. The improvements due to acupuncture were also found to be very rapid and significant.
Many natural remedies are used to treat PTSD disorders in affected individuals. However, out of all these remedies acupuncture seems to be most effective for treatment. Different studies like those conducted by Dr. Hollifield at Department of Psychiatry in University of New Mexico, show that acupuncture can be used successfully as natural treatment for PTSD symptoms like depression, anxiety, insomnia as well as pain originating from psychosomatic disorders. The healing effects of acupuncture last over three months post-treatment. Unlike other conventional psychiatric treatments that are exposure-oriented (in that they require patients to reconstruct traumatic incidents), acupuncture for PTSD does not expose the patient to such elements and hence is safer and non-intrusive.–Pacific College
Another research article of interest found that acupuncture and moxibustion were more effective in treating PTSD than paroxetine, a commonly used pharmaceutical. —Journal of Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine
For more on this topic, go here.
Jeffrey Russell practices acupuncture in Louisville, KY, at his clinic Abacus Chinese Medicine. You can reach him at 502 299-8900.