PTSD and CPTSD
PTSD and Acupuncture
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder that begins after an extremely stressful event or events. While most people will be able to work through traumas like these within a few weeks, others can have symptoms that last for many years. PTSD can affect both body and mind and have a severe impact on every aspect of your life.
In this article, we explore how PTSD is seen in Chinese medicine and how acupuncture could help with this distressing condition.
A Chinese Medicine View of PTSD
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) does not see PTSD as one specific condition. As it affects everyone differently, PTSD can have a variety of causes, and its diagnosis depends on the patient’s symptoms.
Some of the most common symptoms of PTSD are psychological and include anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, and distressing thoughts. However, some people also experience physical symptoms of PTSD, including nausea, trembling, and pain.
From a western medical perspective, these symptoms are a result of increased stress hormones within the body. There may also be changes deeper within the brain. However, TCM sees the body in a very different way.
In TCM, PTSD could be linked to any of the organs and meridians. The most likely to be affected are the Heart, Kidneys, and Liver.
The Heart in Chinese Medicine and PTSD
In TCM, the Heart is viewed as the seat of the emotions. It houses the spirit, or shen, as it’s known in Chinese. As such, this organ is very susceptible to emotional trauma.
Under normal circumstances, the Heart is protected by another organ called the Pericardium (also known as the Heart Protector). The Pericardium acts like a bodyguard for the Heart, preventing it from being damaged or diseased. It acts as a kind of ‘emotional shock-absorber’ so that day-to-day stresses will not have a negative impact on the Heart.
However, sometimes a shock or trauma is so severe that it bypasses the Pericardium and makes its way directly to the Heart. In these cases, the shen (spirit) can become disturbed leading to anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, and nightmares.
Shen disturbance is one of the most common diagnoses for PTSD in Chinese medicine terms.
The Kidneys in Chinese Medicine and PTSD
The Kidneys can also be affected by trauma. In western medicine, the kidneys are located just underneath the adrenal glands, which secrete stress hormones as part of our ‘fight or flight’ response. It is no coincidence that in TCM, the Kidneys are associated with fear and anxiety.
The Kidneys also have a close relationship with the Heart. They are associated with water, while the Heart is associated with fire, and they rely on one another to maintain a state of harmony in the body.
When the Heart and Kidneys undergo trauma, they can become disconnected and stop communicating with one another. This leads to a state of chaos throughout the body, and you might feel on edge, irritable, or unable to relax.
This syndrome is known as Heart-Kidney disharmony and is another common diagnosis for PTSD in TCM.
The Liver in Chinese Medicine and PTSD
The final organ that can be affected by PTSD is the Liver. The Liver has the critical role of circulating qi and blood. When a physical or emotional trauma upsets the delicate balance of the body, the Liver can become stuck, and its ability to circulate qi and blood is reduced.
When qi and blood cannot flow smoothly, they may begin to stagnate in one area causing physical aches and pains. Qi stagnation can also lead to emotional symptoms such as depression, irritability, and angry outbursts.
Any of the above organs can be affected by PTSD, or possibly even a combination of all three. The exact diagnosis will depend on each patient’s unique symptoms, among other things.
Acupuncture for PTSD
When you see your acupuncturist for the first time, they will carry out a thorough consultation to identify which of your organs are being affected. They will ask about your current symptoms, medical history, and when your condition first began.
Once they have made a diagnosis, your acupuncturist will draw up a personalized treatment plan. They will work to restore balance to any organs that have become damaged, as well as choosing points to help calm your mind.
From a scientific viewpoint, acupuncture for PTSD may have several specific benefits. These include the following:
- · Reducing activity in the brain areas associated with pain and stress
- · Regulating neurotransmitter levels
- · Releasing endorphins, your body’s natural ‘feel-good’ chemicals
- · Promoting relaxation and better sleep
Although there is not much research specifically on acupuncture for PTSD, a review of the existing studies found the results encouraging. The authors of the study even suggest that acupuncture could be useful as an “emergency” treatment for PTSD.
If you have been diagnosed with PTSD, there is a good chance that you will have been prescribed medication and referred for therapy. The good news is that these treatments can be used safely alongside acupuncture without any adverse effects. Your acupuncturist may also prescribe self-care instructions for you that may provide fast relief from PTSD symptoms between sessions.
Here at Ravenswood Chiropractic in Chicago, our acupuncturist is experienced at treating a range of emotional disorders including PTSD. Contact us at 773-878-7330 to find out more about acupuncture and how it could help you.
Kim YD, Heo I, Shin BC, Crawford C, Kang HW, Lim JH. Acupuncture for posttraumatic stress disorder: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials and prospective clinical trials. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:615857. doi:10.1155/2013/615857