I have treated countless veterans for PTSD with great results, but one such patient haunts me. About eight months ago, a good looking Marine in his late 40’s came to see me. He lives down around Charlotte, NC with his wife and two tween girls. He returned from Afghanistan with tremendous neck pain and PTSD after being injured during the tour. Both the excruciating pain and severe PTSD was making life unbearable as he explained; he told me that he did not know how much longer he could go on like this. His sober admission would interfere with my sleep during the days to follow before his second appointment.
To my relief, he reported two days of 50% improvement after his first treatment which was a good result so early in the course of his therapy. I felt strongly that I would be able to help resolve both the pain and emotional torment that he was experiencing. We planned for him to return twice per week for the next month to build up some momentum with the acupuncture as I did not want for him to backslide. He left his second treatment noticeably calmer and at peace, and then I never saw him again. I had no way to reach him to check on him as I was working through a facility and not my clinic. I still think of him, and probably always will.
Multiple studies have shown that acupuncture is effective for reducing PTSD symptoms and veterans with PTSD have reported that acupuncture facilitates healing and recovery for combat-related PTSD. My veterans in the clinic also describe how their acupuncture treatments give them a deep sense of calm that lasts far beyond the treatment session itself. Benefits of acupuncture following traumatic incidents have been studied beyond combat-related PTSD and it has been shown to benefit refugees who have been exposed to genocide and torture.
The military has favored auricular (ear) acupuncture because it does not require many years of Oriental medical school to learn. It is low cost, portability, has minimal side effects, and is easy to apply in both clinical and operational settings. Although formally trained licensed acupuncturists can treat more complex emotional and chronic pain conditions as often seen in veterans, military health care providers can receive education and training to administer these ear treatments that only requires a couple of weekends of effort.
It has long been known that acupuncture has an effect on the mind, promotes sleep, and stimulates the release of endorphins. Acupuncture and herbs can play a vital role in a process called neuroplasticity where the brain function is repaired as discussed in an earlier blog. Basically, Chinese medicine rewires the brain and re-sets the stress response of the autonomic nervous system. The effects of acupuncture are not just temporarily calming; patients can actually have a healthier response to stressors after going through a series of acupuncture treatments.
I do not know the circumstances which prevented my Marine from returning to complete his course of treatment, but anyone utilizing acupuncture for PTSD should give the therapy some time to work. As a therapy, it takes time to repair the mind and rewire the brain. Try to attend your acupuncture sessions regularly, especially at the beginning of treatment (see a visual graph linked here). And mainly, have hope; this is a proven treatment protocol.
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