In light of recent ANZAC commemorations Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, has been a subject of much discussion in the news. However, it is not only service personnel returning from international conflict who suffer from PTSD.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event or a series of – either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. The sad fact is that trauma is all around us. Millions of people are currently dealing with the condition, and the majority of cases go untreated.
It has been estimated that 70% of the adults have experienced a trauma severe enough to result in PTSD. These events can be military combat, emergency services, a terrorist attack, natural disasters, violent crime, abusive relationships or horrific accident. Of those who have gone through such an event, about 8% of men, and 20% of women will go on to develop PTSD.
Many people who experience traumatic events have difficulty adjusting and coping for a while, but they don’t necessarily have PTSD — with time and good self-care, they can usually get better. PTSD is a complex disorder, with long ranging consequences. Generally PTSD symptoms may start within three months of a traumatic event, but sometimes symptoms may not appear until years after the event. These symptoms cause significant problems in social or work situations and in relationships. PTSD symptoms are broadly grouped into four types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, or changes in emotional reactions.
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When trauma survivors do seek treatment, the mainstream methods of medical care involve multi discipline therapies with psychiatric care and often prescription drugs to ease anxiety, depression and sleepless nights.
Many of those who are seeking help with PTSD prefer alternative or natural approaches to ease some of burdens of the condition. Massage therapy is a recognised adjunct to the psychiatric process. Massage enables the mind and body to enter a state of deep relaxation. Once we’re able to achieve relaxation, we can more easily re-enter that state and have it relay into the long-term. This will seep into every aspect of life, allowing us to heal and find peace of mind.
How Can Massage Help?
The symptoms of PTSD are the result of imbalances in brain chemicals triggered by emotional stress. These chemicals, including neurotransmitters such as serotonin, affect behaviour, feelings and cognition. By reliving the traumatic event, people with PTSD are always in a heightened state of anxiety. The brain is unable to turn off the “Fight or Flight” response, and their bodies are constantly flooded with stress hormones that cause not only emotional but physical pain, as muscles are constantly tensed for action. Massage therapy can not only relax tensed muscles and ease the physical pain; they can trigger the body’s relaxation response, breaking the cycle of fight or flight.
A study on the effects of massage shows us what’s happening within the brain post-massage. The 2005 study proved positive changes in biochemistry following massage therapy. This included reduced cortisol and increased serotonin and dopamine. By decreasing the clients’ cortisol levels with bodywork, a client can reduce the constant feelings of hyperarousal and danger. By increasing serotonin and dopamine in the brain, an ease of suffering and anxiety is felt.
Sexual abuse victims have also overcome their PTSD symptoms with the help of massage in combination with psychotherapy. The Journal of Bodywork and Movement conducted a study to examine the effects of body-oriented therapy, alongside psychotherapy, for women in recovery from childhood sexual abuse.
The experiment involved eight 1-hour weekly sessions of body-oriented therapy, a combination of bodywork and the emotional processing of psychotherapy. The study examined changes in somatic and psychological symptoms, and the subjective experience of the intervention using a mixed method approach. Qualitative results revealed the positive impact of body-oriented therapy on sense of inner security and psychotherapeutic progress.
With survivors of sexual abuse, it’s not only about enabling them to enter into a relaxed a state, but also encouraging their association of human touch as a positive experience. The more often they receive professional tactile treatment such as massage, the more often they can mark off yet another positive experience in their subconscious, helping to outweigh any fear and overcome active avoidance in being touched.
Massage therapy is an excellent addition to a combined approach for an overall treatment plan for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Once a person is able to relax through massage, circulation improves, sleep patterns can return to normal, and a more relaxed person is more open to other modalities such as talk therapy that can help them resolve the issues at the root of his or her PTSD.