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Acupuncture Treatment For Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is disturbing, distressing and unfair.

It is an anxiety disorder that affects about a quarter of people who have experienced a life trauma. The person’s brain is unable to properly and entirely process the trauma. As a result, the person can retrigger and re-live memories or emotions of the trauma continuously.

While trauma is difficult for everyone to live through, for those with PTSD, these symptoms do not fade away after 2-4 weeks. The person is left feeling like they cannot move on with their lives.  Symptoms include:

  • Flashbacks – Memories of the trauma that intrude on everyday life
  • Disassociation – Episodes of feeling frozen and removed from the current situation (usually due to feeling a large amount of fear)
  • Hypervigilance – Feeling constantly on edge and needing to protect oneself from the world
  • Easily triggered emotions – irritability, fear, frustration, anger, sadness,
  • Anxiety – Worry, fear, confusion, nervousness and tightness in the chest
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Pain and stiffness – muscle tension, joint stiffness

Treatment for PTSD is still evolving.

First-line treatment involves counselling and anti-depressants or sedatives. These can be very useful as the medication can reduce the severity of the symptoms until the psychotherapy allows the person to understand and process the trauma.

However, many people are still searching for a more effective treatment.

Acupuncture is increasingly being used to assist in the treatment of PTSD.

In the USA, the Veteran’s Affairs department offers acupuncture as an adjunct therapy for PTSD. Acupuncture has been popular for returning servicemen as some people do not respond to talking therapies and prefer not to take medication due to the side-effects.

It can also be a beneficial treatment, working alongside other therapies.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: How Acupuncture Can Help 

Acupuncture is based on a holistic Chinese Medicine approach to human conditions.

It places less emphasis on the separation between the mind and the body.  However, acupuncture is not a ‘talking therapy’, rather it affects change in the person’s mind, body and spirit by placing a series of needles in chosen points.

Acupuncture has been shown to be effective in treating anxiety disorders due to its’ effect of the release of neurotransmitters that:

  • Produce a profound sense of relaxation
  • Calm the autonomic nervous system
  • Improve sleep
  • Reduce pain and tension in the body
  • Reduce panic

Frequently, patients report that they feel more like themselves.

As acupuncture produces a profound relaxation, it allows the body and brain time to strengthen its own healing response. This includes strengthening neural pathways for a stronger parasympathetic nervous response (or the rest-and-digest mode).

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: Auricular Acupuncture

Auricular acupuncture has been shown useful in treating PTSD. Auricular acupuncture involves needles around the ear.  Auriculotherapy was developed by a French doctor and is used by registered acupuncturists, GPs, drug and alcohol workers as well as military doctors. (Koffmann, 2013)

The ear is particularly useful in acupuncture, as it is supplied by a number of different nerves and blood vessels.

It was also created very early in embryonic development, so it involves endoderm, ectoderm and mesodermic tissues. This means it is highly connected to the rest of the body.

Auriculotherapy has been shown with functional MRI scans to stimulate and downregulate different parts of the brain, including the hippocampus and amygdala.

Changing blood supply to different parts of the brain is a physical therapy that allows repair and changes in cognitive and behaviour patterns. (Jackson, 2014)

It is increasingly used to assist in processing trauma and reducing:

  • flashbacks
  • insomnia
  • pain and tension

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: Research

Brief exposure to acupuncture significantly improved the symptoms of PTSD when compared with the usual care in a randomised controlled trial involving 55 veterans.

Compared with usual care, acupuncture was associated with significantly greater decreases in PTSD symptoms on CAPS and PCL-C*, and these improvements were maintained through the 12-week follow-up. The mean PCL-C decreases were 19.4 at the end of treatment and 19.8 at the 12-week follow-up in the acupuncture group, compared with 4.0 and 9.7 in the usual care group. (Wendling, 2008) 

A systematic review covering acupuncture’s efficacy across a broad range of components of Traumatic Spectrum Response looked at 1,480 citations, with 52 systematic reviews/meta-analyses, all high quality except for one, was assessed.

Based on the results, acupuncture appears to be effective for treating headaches and, although more research is needed, seems to be a promising treatment option for anxiety, sleep disturbances, depression and chronic pain. It does not, however, demonstrate any substantial treatment benefit for substance abuse. More quality data are also needed to determine whether acupuncture is appropriate for treating fatigue or cognitive difficulties.  (Lee et al. 2012)

If you would like to have a confidential conversation about post-traumatic stress disorder or any other emotional & psychiatric condition, please feel free to call us on 1300 432 639, or book a consultation online.

  1. Anxiety Recovery Centre Victoria (2012). Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Booklet. Available at:
  2. Chalmers, J. Modern Auricular Therapy: A Brief History and the Discovery of the Vascular Autonomic Signal. Journal of Chinese Medicine, Number 84 • June 2007
  3. Ford, J. PTSD is the Amygdala hijacking Joe’s Brain. Psychology Today, 7 December 2012
  4. Hollfield, M. Acupuncture for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Conceptual, Clinical, and Biological Data Support Further Research. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics 17 (2011) 769–779
  5. Jackson, K. Treatment for Veterans with PTSD – Outside the Traditional Toolbox. Social Work Today. Vol 14, No.2, P 18. Mach/April 2014
  6. Koffman, L. et al. Acupuncture and PTSD: ‘Come for the Needles, Stay for the Therapy.’ FAAMA Psychiatric Annals May 2013 – Volume 43 · Issue 5: 236-239
  8. Lee et al. The effectiveness of acupuncture research across components of trauma spectrum response (tsr): a systematic review of reviews. Systematic Reviews 2012, 1:46
  10. Pease, M. et al. Acupuncture for refugees with posttraumatic stress disorder: Initial experiences establishing a community clinic. EXPLORE January/February 2009, Vol. 5, No. 1, p-51-54
  11. Medina, J. Neurobiology of PTSD. Psychiatric Times, 1 Feb 2008
  13. Wendling, P. Traditional acupuncture improves PTSD symptoms in veterans. Clinical Psychiatry News. 36.12 (Dec. 2008): p10.

Written by

Sustain Health
Sustain Health is a multidisciplinary, wellness clinic located in South Melbourne, Australia. We believe good medicine is about looking at the whole being, treating the person and keeping them well. We view each patient as an individual affected by their unique lifestyle, diet, environment, emotions and attitude. Every individual’s health needs a tailored approach to achieve better and sustainable medical solutions. Sustain Health currently offers its clients: * Fertility * IVF Support * Acupuncture * Chinese Medicine * Chiropractic

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4 thoughts on “Acupuncture Treatment For Post-traumatic Stress Disorder”

  1. I was surfing through the internet for a while just to get in-depth information about the topic you wrote about and way you explained beautifully about how acupuncture treatment is helpful for post traumatic stress disorder was really amazing. Keep sharing such blogs further as well. And kindly let me know how can I subscribe to the Newsletter. Thanks.

    1. Hi Tim, thank you for your positive feedback! You can subscribe to our newsletters through a form located at the bottom of the homepage on our website. We hope this helps and you are able to receive more amazing insights into how Acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help ????

  2. I wish to show thanks to you just for bailing me out of this particular trouble.As a result of checking through the net and meeting techniques that were not productive, I thought my life was done.

    1. Hi there! We are so glad to hear that this article was insightful to you. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us at 1300 432 639 if you would like to come for treatment ????

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