Benefits of Massage for PTSD
The benefits of massage on PTSD are not limited to the military. The positive results from massage can be profound for folks suffering with PTSD no matter the cause of the condition. Living through or witnessing anything extremely upsetting or dangerous can cause PTSD.
Frequently a client with PTSD cannot relax during a massage. In these instances, it’s important for the therapist to proceed slowly with their treatment. Due to heightened emotional arousal that is part of PTSD, sufferers often experience increased body tension. The hyper vigilant state they experience coupled with traumatic somatic memories can make it difficult for them to receive deep tissue work. The initial sessions might be more productive with the client fully clothed and sitting up. Ideally, the client will become more comfortable and able to relax in subsequent sessions. As the client is able to relax, and begins to feel safe, the benefits from the massage will increase.
Massage won’t cure PTSD, but it is effective at alleviating some of the worst manifestations of the syndrome. Studies show massage will improve symptoms such as chronic pain, immune system deficiencies and stress. PTSD sufferers have been found to have elevated cortisol levels, which lead to cognitive impairment, poor glucose management and lowered immune response. Studies at the Touch Research Institute show that massage helps to reduce blood cortisol levels, and will lessen those damaging effects.
There has been research published in Military Medicine that reports military veterans indicated significant reductions in anxiety, worry, depression and physical pain after massage. Analysis also suggests declining levels of tension and irritability following massage.
At Fort Bliss Restoration and Resilience Center the Holistic Healing approach to PTSD created by clinical psychologist John Fortunato has proven to be particularly effective. The therapies include a number of modalities including reiki, massage, meditation, yoga and hot stone massage.
CranioSacral Therapy (CST) has been shown to be particularly effective in treating PTSD. Studies performed at the Upledger Institute on Vietnam Veterans suffering from PTSD proved to be effective in treating five key components of PTSD: insomnia, hyper-vigilance, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and panic attacks.
The stress of war and transitioning often causes a chronic release of the hormone cortisol, which, in the long term, can cause problems. Massage has been shown to reduce cortisol levels while increasing levels of serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. This balancing of hormones aids in relaxation, and causes a reduction of stress related issues.
A soldier’s sleep is often restless and shallow; at times it is non-existent. Massage helps to restore healthy sleep patterns. Massage is beneficial in reducing insomnia and increasing the deep sleep necessary for a healthy mind and body. Massage offers a multitude of physical and emotional benefits. Those suffering from PTSD can experience relief from the simplest techniques and relaxation. These complimentary approaches are far preferable than resorting to medication as a way to cope with life.
- National Center for PTSD, Department of Veteran Affairs, VA Medical Center, White River Junction, VT 05009, 802.296.5132. sover.net/~schwcof/ptsd.htm/
- CIVITAS Child Trauma Programs, Bruce Perry, a noted neurobiologist, explains how many disorders such as Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome begin with childhood trauma. http://www.bcm.tmc.edu/civitas/
- Barnard, Katheryn and Brazelton, T. Berry, Touch: the Foundation of Experience. Madison: International University Press, 1990, front flap.
- MacFarlane, Alexander C., and Giovanni De Girolamo, “The Nature of Traumatic Stressors and the Epidemiology of Post-Traumatic Reactions” in: van der Kolk, Bessel A., Alexander C. McFarlane, and Lars Weisaeth, (Eds), Traumatic Stress, The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body and Society, New York: Guilford Press, 1996, p. 141.