Acupuncture for Trauma and PTSD

Did you know that Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine can effectively treat trauma, and even prevent the development of PTSD?

About 70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. As many as 20% of these adults will develop PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (also known as PTSI – Post Traumatic Stress Injury).

Most of us are familiar with PTSD as something experienced by veterans of active military duty, or survivors of catastrophic natural disasters. Living through the horrors of war or natural disaster can most definitely be traumatic, and can predispose a person to PTSD. However, many of us have experienced trauma in less direct and obvious ways.

Causes of Trauma

According to author and trauma researcher, Peter Levine, Ph.D., obvious causes of trauma include: war; severe childhood abuse or neglect; experiencing or being a witness to violence; rape; or catastrophic illness or injury.

Less obvious causes of trauma include: minor motor vehicle accidents, especially when they result in whiplash; invasive medical or dental procedures; falls or other minor injuries; illnesses; natural disasters; losing a loved one or a child; prolonged immobilization; exposure to extremes in temperature (especially for children and babies); sudden loud noises; and birth stress or injury (both for mother and baby).

These less obvious causes of trauma are often overlooked because many of them are common experiences. However, your nervous system may still have been affected by these experiences. If you noticed your heart rate increase, your breath shorten, or your diaphragm constrict while reading the above lists, your body may be responding to the experience of a past distressing event.

Symptoms of Trauma

Some symptoms may develop shortly after a traumatic or distressing event, while others may take years to develop or progress. The more obvious, immediate symptoms of trauma include: hyper vigilance; flashbacks; exaggerated responses; nightmares; difficulty sleeping; and mood swings. Symptoms that may develop later include: panic attacks and anxiety; avoidance behavior; addictive behaviors; chronic fatigue; chronic pain; immune system disorders; fibromyalgia; digestive problems; severe PMS; depression; alienation, or isolation.

These symptoms are not always related to trauma, but they can be. Our nervous systems may still carry the effects of a trauma even years after the event because our body hasn’t been able to complete the natural, biological response to trauma and fear. Just as an animal in the wild will shake and tremble after being immobilized or attacked by a predator, our nervous systems are designed to help us recover from a traumatic event. However, especially when we have experienced immobility or the “freeze response” during trauma, we seem to have trouble moving out of this state and discharging the energy that builds up in order to help us escape a frightening or distressing event.

Acupuncture and Trauma

Acupuncture can be effective in treating trauma and PTSD because it can help to balance the nervous and hormonal systems. Acupuncture can also help balance parts of the brain that are affected by trauma.

I use several points on a patient’s head to increase circulation to the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain stores memories, modulates fear and other intense emotions, helps us think rationally, and maintain a healthy balance between our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The prefrontal cortex typically gets “turned off” during a traumatic event, while other, more basic parts of the brain designed for survival become more active. Studies have shown that patients with PTSD often have dysfunction of the prefrontal cortex, including atrophy of the dendrites (the neurological cells involved in transmission of electrical impulses).

During a treatement, I may also use points in the ear, called auricular acupuncture, to reduce stress and anxiety, and treat the brain and nervous system. Shen Men point, (aka “Spirit Gate”), is a very calming point. I often use this point with Sympathetic (a point which relaxes the sympathetic nervous system), Point Zero (releases the diaphragm to promote deep breathing), and other organ points based on the patient’s symptom presentation.

Balance and Healing

Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine also address the underlying causes of imbalance through an assessment of tongue, pulse, and symptom differentiation to identify the specific organ systems and meridians involved in a patient’s presentation. By addressing imbalances in the flow of Qi – or energy – in the meridians, acupuncture can restore the patient’s natural, internal healing mechanism. Addressing emotional symptoms like fear, anger, or anxiety can also help bring a person back into balance. While acupuncture is useful in treating the effects of trauma that happened even years in the past, it can also help to prevent the development of PTSD after a trauma. The sooner treatment is administered after a traumatic event, the less likely the development of PTSD.

If you or someone you know has experienced trauma, and you want to see if acupuncture can help you, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

Sources:

Acupuncturists Without Borders, “Why We Use Acupuncture for Trauma Prevention and Treatment,” About AWB, <http://www.acuwithoutborders.org/acupuncture-for-trauma/&gt; (3 Apr 2017).

Amy F.T. Arnsten, et. al., “The effects of stress exposure on prefrontal cortex: translating basic research into successful treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder.” Neurobiology of Stress Vol 1. (2015).<http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352289514000101&gt; (3 Apr 2017).

Levine, Peter, Ph.D. Healing Trauma. Boulder, CO: Sounds True. 2005

Sidran Institute. “Post Traumatic Disorder Fact Sheet.” 2016. <https://www.sidran.org/resources/for-survivors-and-loved-ones/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-fact-sheet/&gt; (3 Apr 2017).

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