PTSD: Navagating the Storm

PTSD Contemplation Image: socialworksupervisor.com

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is not reserved solely for those who have seen combat; 70% of adults in the US have experienced a trauma severe enough to result in PTSD. Modern medicine has taken huge steps in recognizing and treating PTSD but many still suffer. Not long ago PTSD was not even recognized as a disorder or as something warranting treatment. People with PTSD are unable to ‘let go’ of the traumatic event they witness or experience, causing them to relive it again and again. Common symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, nightmares, trouble sleeping, chronic pain, fatigue, and feelings of detachment or distance

 

A constant attack is what PTSD can feel like. Reliving traumatic events puts the body into a Fight or Flight response. The body is flooded with stress hormones that cause not only emotional but physical pain. Symptoms of PTSD step from resulting imbalances in chemicals in the brain triggering emotional stress. Chemicals including serotonin, affect behavior, feelings and thought process. Reliving a traumatic event creates a heightened state of anxiety, depression, and feelings of helplessness.

Breaking the cycle of PTSD involves and usually requires the affected to be able to relax. A safe environment where the patient can relax their body and ease their mind in turn. Massage therapy is a common front-runner in PTSD treatment. Working the bodies, muscles and circulatory system provides the environment for a potential break in the cycle of PTSD patients. Improved sleep patterns, improved and regulated mood, and the ease of physical pain are all achievable with massage therapy. A relaxed and well-rested patient is more open to other treatments such as talk therapy.

A safe and healing space is not always reached through verbal communication. When the pain roots its self in the subconscious as well as conscious mind a patient needs to seek healing through some of the most basic remedies. Peaceful sleep, a clear head, and physical relaxation. The healing space created by massage therapists goes beyond the verbal explanations of feelings. Massage therapy is for feeling, body-mind, and spirit.

Studies recorded by the International Journal of Neuroscience give us a deeper look into how exactly massage therapy affects the brains chemical make up. The positive effects of massage therapy on biochemistry include decreased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and increased levels of serotonin and dopamine. These studies also researched depression, pain syndromes, immune studies, and studies on reduction of stress. In studies in which cortisol was measured throughout massage therapy, treatment researchers saw an average of 31% decrease in cortisol. Serotonin and dopamine resulted in an average increase of 28% for serotonin and 31% for dopamine while patients received massage therapy regularly. These studies combined suggest and prove the stress-alleviating effects (decreased cortisol) and the activating effects (increased serotonin and dopamine) of massage therapy on a variety of medical conditions and stressful/traumatic experiences.

Closer to home in the United States, sixty grade-school children who showed classroom behavior problems following Hurricane Andrew were given massage therapy as a treatment. Scores recorded from these students on the PTSD Reaction Index suggest that they were experiences severe post-traumatic stress. Compared to a video attention control group, the children who were treated with massage therapy reported being happier and less anxious and lower cortisol levels after the therapy. These positive effects were promising given the persistent PTSD symptoms occurring for children who have not received intervention following traumatic events such as hurricanes.

PTSD is an unseen wound many may carry, with or without knowing. When the thought of speaking to a health care professional, family or even friends seems too much, remember there is always another step to take before facing something so hard. Massage therapy has been proven and utilized to treat the symptoms of PTSD so patients can seek treatment on a physical and chemical level. The days of ‘just let it go’ and ‘why aren’t you over it yet?’ are done. Through the power of massage, healing can begin from the inside out and can liberate a patient from the pain and symptoms of PTSD.

-HEIDI LYNNE