A good friend and I were discussing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the role it plays in the health of veterans. During the conversation, we did not mention the possibility of other individuals experiencing the condition. The unfortunate reality is, however, that PTSD is more common in society than what popular media may portray. In fact, 6% to 24% of the population may carry some level of PTSD. 

Any individual who has lived through highly stressful events can develop PTSD. Near-death experiences, abuse, dying loved ones and car accidents are just a few everyday events that can create this stressful condition. According to the National Institutes of Health, those experiencing PTSD have physically entered “fight or flight” mode as a protective response to a traumatic experience. Most individuals can recover after the danger has passed, but those who continue to experience the stress response without the danger stimuli can eventually be diagnosed with PTSD.

The most common symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Re-experiencing symptoms: flashbacks, bad dreams, stressful thoughts
  • Avoidance symptoms: purposely avoiding activities, emotions/thoughts, places or situations that remind one of the trauma
  • Arousal/reactivity: quickly started, on edge, trouble sleeping, anger outburst
  • Cognitive/mood symptoms: trouble recollecting the event, pessimism, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities

Children can also experience PTSD but may demonstrate different symptoms such as:

  • Bedwetting after mastering toileting
  • Inability to speak
  • Acting out during play
  • Extremely clingy to parents or other adults

Significant research on PTSD therapy takes place annually and a promising avenue is acupuncture. Acupuncture, which uses hair-thin needles inserted into the tissue to cause beneficial effects on the body, has been studied to treat a variety of mental health conditions including anxiety, sleep and stress-related disorders and PTSD. Interestingly, 21% of all acupuncture patients have reported a mental disorder. 

A systemic review of multiple clinical trials on PTSD and acupuncture evaluated acupuncture’s effectiveness in treating the disorder. One trial, which compared acupuncture to cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and waitlist control, demonstrated that acupuncture was just as effective in helping relieve PTSD symptoms as CBT therapy and outperformed benefits to patients on a waitlist. Another trial compared acupuncture combined with CBT to CBT alone, and the acupuncture-added group reported more significant symptom relief than CBT alone. While a clinical trial comparing acupuncture to antidepressant (SSRI) medication demonstrated no difference in benefits, acupuncture with moxibustion outperformed PTSD symptom relief compared to oral SSRI medication. 

Research on PTSD has a long way to go, but acupuncture can play an effective and safe role in treating those suffering from the condition as it offers many benefits with little to no side effects. If you are experiencing PTSD, reach out to your trusted health care practitioner to see what treatment options may work best for you. 

Agustin Orozco is a licensed acupuncturist and certified massage therapist with AcQpoint Wellness Center in Palm Desert. (760) 345.2200 or www.acqpoint.com.

Sources available upon request.

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