What is PTSD
PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape, or other violent personal assault. It is a lasting consequence of traumatic ordeals that cause intense fear, helplessness, or horror.
People with PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger. Symptoms of PTSD can be grouped into four categories:
- Recurrent, unwanted, distressing memories of the traumatic event
- Flashbacks, where the person relives the traumatic event
- Nightmares about the traumatic event
- Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to reminders of the traumatic event
- Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event
- Avoiding people, places, activities, objects, and situations that remind the person of the traumatic event
Negative Changes in Thinking and Mood:
- Negative feelings about oneself or other people
- Inability to experience positive emotions
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Feeling hopeless about the future
- Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships
Changes in Physical and Emotional Reactions (also called arousal symptoms):
- Being easily startled or frightened
- Always being on guard for danger
- Self-destructive behavior, such as drug abuse or dangerous driving
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
- Irritability, angry outbursts, or aggressive behavior
- Overwhelming guilt or shame
To diagnose PTSD, a mental health professional will use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which lays out the criteria that must be met. It includes exposure to a traumatic event, the presence of symptoms from the groups mentioned above for more than a month, and significant distress or functional impairment resulting from the symptoms.
Treatment for PTSD can involve a variety of approaches including psychotherapy (such as cognitive processing therapy or EMDR), medications, or a combination of both. It is important to note that what works for one person may not work for another and it may take some time to find the most effective treatment. It is advised that individuals consult with a healthcare provider to determine the best course of treatment.
How massage can reduce PTSD
Massage therapy, which involves the manual manipulation of muscles and soft tissues of the body, can be beneficial in helping individuals manage symptoms of PTSD. Here’s how massage can potentially reduce PTSD symptoms:
1. Reducing Stress and Anxiety
- Relaxation Response: Massage can promote relaxation by reducing muscle tension and inducing a relaxation response, which can lower stress hormones such as cortisol.
- Improved Sleep: By promoting relaxation, massage can help improve sleep quality, which is often compromised in individuals with PTSD.
2. Enhancing Emotional Regulation
- Mind-Body Connection: Massage can help foster a stronger mind-body connection, helping individuals become more aware of their physical sensations, which can be useful in emotional regulation.
- Dopamine and Serotonin: Massage can increase the levels of dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters associated with feelings of well-being and happiness, potentially improving mood and reducing depressive symptoms.
3. Alleviating Physical Symptoms
- Pain Reduction: Many people with PTSD experience chronic pain. Massage can help alleviate pain by reducing muscle tension and improving circulation.
- Improved Physical Functioning: Regular massage can enhance physical functioning, potentially reducing the physical limitations that people with PTSD may experience.
4. Trauma Release
- Safe Touch: For individuals with PTSD, especially those with a history of physical or sexual abuse, re-learning to associate touch with safety and comfort can be a critical part of healing. Massage therapy can potentially facilitate this process in a controlled and safe environment.
- Somatic Experiencing: Some therapeutic approaches to trauma, such as somatic experiencing, focus on releasing trapped energy in the body that results from traumatic experiences. While not massage therapy in the traditional sense, such therapies often involve touch and manual therapy techniques to help individuals release trauma from the body.
5. Promoting Mindfulness and Present Moment Awareness
- Mindfulness: By focusing on the physical sensations during a massage, individuals can cultivate mindfulness, or a focused awareness on the present moment, which can be healing for trauma survivors.
- Grounding: Massage can help individuals feel more grounded and connected to their bodies, potentially reducing dissociative symptoms that are common in PTSD.
6. Supporting Overall Well-being
- Immune System: By reducing stress, massage can support immune system functioning, potentially improving overall health and resilience.
- Self-Care: Engaging in massage therapy can be a form of self-care, fostering a sense of self-compassion and well-being.
It’s important to note that while massage therapy can offer many benefits, it is not a standalone treatment for PTSD. It should be used as a complementary approach, alongside other evidence-based treatments for PTSD. Moreover, individuals with PTSD should work with trained therapists who have experience working with trauma survivors to ensure that the massage therapy is therapeutic rather than retraumatizing. It’s also crucial to always obtain informed consent and prioritize the comfort and safety of the individual receiving the massage.
Swedish Massage VS Deep tissue massage for PTSD
Both Swedish massage and deep tissue massage can potentially aid in reducing the symptoms of PTSD, but they offer different approaches and may cater to different needs and preferences. Here, we compare the two types of massages with regard to their potential benefits for individuals with PTSD:
Definition: Swedish massage is a gentler, more superficial massage technique that focuses on promoting relaxation, improving circulation, and easing muscle tension using a range of strokes such as gliding, kneading, and tapping.
Benefits in the Context of PTSD:
- Relaxation and Stress Reduction: By promoting relaxation, Swedish massage can help alleviate the chronic stress and hyperarousal often experienced by individuals with PTSD.
- Improved Sleep: The relaxing nature of Swedish massage can potentially improve sleep, which is often disrupted in individuals with PTSD.
- Safe Physical Touch: Swedish massage can introduce individuals to safe and nurturing physical touch, potentially helping to re-establish trust and comfort with touch.
Deep Tissue Massage
Definition: Deep tissue massage involves applying more intense pressure using slow, deep strokes to target the inner layers of muscles and connective tissues. It’s often used to address muscle damage from injuries or chronic muscle tension.
Benefits in the Context of PTSD:
- Chronic Pain Relief: Individuals with PTSD may experience chronic pain as a result of muscular tension and stress. Deep tissue massage can potentially alleviate chronic pain by addressing deep-seated muscle tension.
- Release of Trapped Emotional Tension: Deep tissue massage may help release emotional tensions and traumas that are held in the bodily tissues, potentially fostering a deeper release and healing.
- Improved Bodily Awareness: Deep tissue massage can enhance bodily awareness, helping individuals to reconnect with their bodies and become more attuned to physical sensations, which can be a beneficial aspect of trauma recovery.
Choosing Between Swedish and Deep Tissue Massage
- Personal Preference and Comfort: Individual preferences and comfort levels should be the guiding factors in choosing between Swedish and deep tissue massage.
- Physical Health Conditions: The individual’s physical health conditions should also be considered, as deep tissue massage may not be suitable for everyone, especially those with certain medical conditions or physical injuries.
- Therapist Expertise: It is essential to work with a therapist who has expertise in working with individuals with trauma and PTSD to ensure a safe and therapeutic experience.
- Trial and Error: Individuals might try both approaches to see which one feels more beneficial and comfortable for them.
Both Swedish and deep tissue massages have their unique benefits, and individuals with PTSD may find relief with either approach based on their personal preferences and needs. It is important to foster a sense of safety and trust, and to work collaboratively with the massage therapist to find the approach that is most beneficial for the individual. It’s advisable to start with a gentler approach, like Swedish massage, and then potentially explore deep tissue massage as a person becomes more comfortable with y. It’s also imperative to consult with healthcare providers and therapists before starting any new therapy regimen.