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PTSD, Massage therapy, and TCM

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

PTSD is described as a traumatic event that the nervous system cannot handle or process properly. Someone can be exposed to the same traumatic event as someone else while one may suffer from PTSD the other may be unaffected. 

Symptoms include but are not limited to:

-hyperarousal (constant anxiety) 

-anxiety

-insomnia

-difficulty concentrating

-self destructive behavior 

-irritability, agitation 

-panic attacks

-flashback

-hypervigilance 

-guilt and shame

-dissociation (disconnecting from ones thoughts, feelings, memories, body, or sense of identity)

-chronic pain 

-trouble relating to others

-damaging or unhealthy relationship patterns 

-depression

-chronic sadness with no apparent cause 

-inability to trust others

-inability to trust self 

PTSD vs Complex PTSD

Traditional diagnoses of PTSD refers to one traumatic event while Complex PTSD refers to ongoing abuse or repeat exposure to traumatic events. When someone has been raised in a loving family and has been taught healthy social behavior PTSD from a traumatic event is much easier to recover from. C-PTSD when a child is repeatedly exposed to traumatic situations their ability to trust others is compromised and it is much harder to recover later on in life. Not to say recovery isn’t possible but it is typically a much longer road to recovery. People who are exposed to traumatic events are much more likely to recover if they have a support system already in place such as a loving family.

How can massage help?

Massage in general helps bring a person to a state of relaxation—a place most traumatized people can’t get to on their own. Not only is this the ideal state for real healing to take place it also aids in managing the symptoms so the person can just get through their days. 

Many people suffering from PTSD are in some kind of chronic physical pain. Massage can help with pain management while a person works through their trauma.

Massage has been shown with saliva testing to decrease cortisol levels by 31 %. Cortisol is a stress hormone that helps regulate stress but when cortisol levels are too high for too long they can create real problems such as:

-weight gain

-high blood pressure

-insomnia

-compromise immune system

-fatigue 

while increasing dopamine levels 31% and serotonin 28% 

Often times a severely traumatized person has trouble connecting or recognizing their own     body. In Bessel Van Der Kolk’s “The Body Keeps The Score” he talks about his patients who       felt completely disconnected or cut off from certain parts of their body. They had no feeling or awareness in certain areas. Working with a massage therapist to regain consciousness and awareness of your body has been shown to be effective. Simple things such saying “now imagine all your breath going into your arm where I am working” the patient can slowly start to connect with their own body again.

When a child is sexually abused, especially when they don’t have healthy relationships with other adults the only physical connections they develop are typically either sexual or violent. When the child grows up they have only ever known touch to be sexual or violent. Massage therapy teaches the traumatized person how to be physically connected to someone without sex. This is a huge accomplishment for a victim of long term sexual abuse.

Talk therapy can be beneficial for the treatment of PTSD however, in my experience it isn’t enough. Because traumatic memories aren’t just stored in our brains, but in our whole body I believe talk therapy is most effective when combined with some kind of body therapy (yoga, massage, qigong, tai chi, acupuncture). 

Emotional release during massage-

Sometimes a patient (traumatized or not) might experience an extreme rush of powerful emotions. If a patient who has experienced physical or sexual trauma feels a touch similar to something negative they have experienced in the past their touch receptors send sensations to the brain causing them to remember the event with no rational understanding of what they are feeling. While these emotional releases can be difficult it can be crucial to the healing process to feel those stored emotions and let them go. 

When a relatively healthy person is exposed to a traumatic event they may suffer from PTSD symptoms such as flashbacks, anxiety, insomnia, or other symptoms relating to the event. However, their trust in the world and in themselves is usually kept intact. So what about the victims of long term childhood abuse or neglect who never had trust in themselves or the rest of the world? Connecting with a massage therapist and establishing trust in another person is a huge accomplishment on it’s own. If they have made the step to get on your table they are headed in the right direction to be open to the healing process. 

Chinese medicine doesn’t recognize PTSD as a condition however there is a lot of crossover with signs and symptoms making Chinese medicine effective for treatment. 

The Pericardium Channel-

The pericardium’s job is to protect the heart from emotional trauma. The primary function of the Pericardium could be said to be psychological as it rules relationships and the emotional issues of relationships. 

Other issues relating to pericardium: heart protection, joy, vulnerability, love, self Love, self-acceptance, self-expression, relation to self, relation to others, openness.

Signs of Imbalance: Pericardium imbalance can manifest as chronic damaging relationship patterns, guarded behavior, fear of relationships, vulnerability, mental disturbance, irrational fears, sexual perversion, inappropriate intimacy or fear of intimacy, depression, nausea, vomiting, vertigo. A pericardium excess can cause uncontrollable laughter, while deficiency can manifest as profound sadness.

The signs of imbalance in the pericardium channel are very similar to the effects of long term abuse suggesting that the pericardium is severely damaged by PTSD. If we can treat the pericardium channel we can start to heal the trauma. 

How to treat the PC:

Some good points to focus on-

CV 7- “running piglet” or panic attacks

CV17- Front Mu point of PC, opens chest, relieves anxiety 

PC 7- Source point

PC 7 + SJ 5 (Source point of PC and Connecting point of SJ)

PC 3- relieve anxiety, mental restlessness, calms the mind

PC 4- anxiety, insomnia, mental restlessness, depression

PC 5- poor memory, manic behavior, fright, resolves phlegm obstructing minds orifices 

Lg I 4+ LV 3- strongly move qi

SP 4+ PC 6- “running piglet”

While there is no “cure” for PTSD, there are ways to heal from our pasts and live healthy normal lives and learn to develop healthy relationships and behaviors. I am looking forward to helping people navigate through their process in the next chapter of my life. 

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