Healing PTSD Part 2: Massage Therapy

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Last time we discussed the healing powers of Reiki when dealing with post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. There is incredible transformation possible when using energy medicine in such tough cases, and that’s not even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to holistic world of healing. Because trauma and stress affect the nervous system, up-regulating it into “fight or flight” mode, it’s a wise therapeutic move to focus on modalities that have shown to be effective in down-regulating the nervous system. Luckily, in the alternative health field, this is one of the cornerstones in nearly every therapy- the nourishment of the nerves, calming of the fear/reactivity centers of the brain, and creating a safe and soothing space to wind down. One of the most popular and accessible forms of stress-reduction is massage therapy, and its benefits go much deeper than many people realize. And because it doesn’t carry the stigma like more traditional forms of therapy sometimes do, massage can serve as the gateway to profound healing, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Massage therapists are the 2nd most visited practitioners in the CAM field, just behind chiropractors, so this healing potential is vast and wide-reaching. And more and more people living with PTSD are beginning to take advantage of this.

While many people can attest to the transformative powers of massage, there is not much peer-reviewed research out there on how it can help heal PTSD and other stress disorders. Massage therapy is often lumped in with other alternative therapies, which are applied to treatment groups as a whole, as part of an integrative therapy approach. And the results are always positive in these cases, with patients reporting less stress, fewer flashback episodes, better sleep, and an increase in quality of life. Some researchers are standing up and pushing for more solid studies on the efficacy of massage therapy in treating PTSD, gathering support from surveys, review papers, and anecdotal evidence.

Alternative therapies that aim to down-regulate the nervous system are an important part of any holistic healing plan for PTSD, because they teach the body to slowly lower its defenses, and blunt the reactivity of the fear center of the brain. These effects compound over time, with each session reinforcing the body’s parasympathetic response, and can change how our brains respond to triggers. There are a lot of wonderful changes that happen during a massage therapy session that can be beneficial to those with PTSD, and here are just a few:

  • Cortisol (master stress hormone) levels decrease
  • Dopamine and serotonin levels increase
  • Muscular tension decreases
  • Blood flow to brain and extremities increases
  • Heart rate and variability decrease
  • Lymphatic drainage is increased
  • Pain receptor response is decreased
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Because of all these incredible biochemical changes that happen during a massage session, people living with major stress disorders like PTSD can look forward to:

  • Lowered anxiety levels and less reactivity to stressful situations
  • Better sleep quality and fewer nightmares
  • Less muscular strain and overall pain
  • Lower blood pressure and less stress on the heart
  • Alleviation of depressive symptoms
  • Clearer thinking and better concentration
  • Boosted immune function

When our bodies are on constant alert, it takes a serious toll on our health. Veterans, survivors, and others living with PTSD have an up-regulated sympathetic nervous system, meaning they are flush with stress hormones, primed for fear reactivity, and have a very hard time relaxing. When these biochemical pathways are always on, it can cause chronic health problems like high blood pressure, heart attacks, severe mood swings, violent outbursts, overall body pain and sensitivity, difficulty staying focused, and susceptibility to infectious diseases.

Because massage therapy works on the central nervous system, and encourages the release of feel-good hormones, it can be highly effective in healing PTSD. Especially if it is enjoyed on a regular basis, it can slowly shift the body into a more peaceful and less reactive state. So if you or a loved one is dealing with serious stress disorders like PTSD, I invite you to come and see for yourself the wonderful healing powers of massage. There are no side effects to worry about, or potential dangers to weigh. So what do you have to lose?