Over the relatively short period of time that trauma treatment has been studied, there has been a myriad of different methods proven to help trauma victims in one way or another. Despite this, there is yet to be a cure-all that works completely for every individual and every trauma. To fully accept the reality of a trauma and be free from the weight it bears, multiple treatment methods working in tandem with one another is the best approach for healing.
One treatment method that is less often discussed but proven effective is acupuncture. Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice that utilizes small needles placed along pressure points on the body to help with energy flow and pain relief. Chinese documents dating as far back as 100 BCE describe the system of diagnosis and treatment that is now recognized as acupuncture (White & Ernst, 2004). The original idea of flowing meridians in the body has given way to modern neurology’s explanation that the needles stimulate nerve endings and brain function (White & Ernst, 2004). While the practice is centuries old and has been utilized in cultures across the globe, there is surprisingly little research on its effects.
Although there is little research on the subject, other forms of therapies have developed from its principles. Emotional Freedom Techniques is a more common method that, while self-administered, relies on the same bodily energy flows as acupuncture and has also been proven to cure the physical and psychological effects of trauma. In a survey following the September 11th attacks, the 225 individuals questioned said that acupuncture was the most effective method in helping them overcome the immediate trauma of being in the Towers (Van der Kolk, 2014). Acupuncture has also been found to be a “promising treatment option for anxiety, sleep disturbances, depression and chronic pain” as related to the trauma spectrum responses (Lee et al., 2012). While more research is needed to identify the mechanism of action between the needles and the actual relief, the success stories speak for themselves and make the practice a worthy contender for comorbid treatment.
The way acupuncture can aid in trauma recovery is by alleviating the symptoms either directly or residually caused by the event. For example, after a car accident, an individual might suffer pain in their neck and experience anxiety whenever they are in a car again. Acupuncture can help to relieve the neck pain that both hinders quality of life and acts as a constant reminder of the accident. Chronic pain is also a common side effect of adverse childhood experiences. When an adult comes in for therapy with a long history of repeat traumas, alleviating physical pain is a great starting point to begin recovery. This allows for a greater sense of control in one’s own body and opens doors for further therapeutic practices like yoga and exercise that would not have been possible with chronic pain. Acupuncture may not be the cure-all that therapists and researchers are looking for to help their patients overcome past traumas but its longstanding history and overwhelming success rate for non-trauma related pain demands more research be conducted on the practice’s effects on trauma.
Lee, C., Crawford, C., Wallerstedt, D., York, A., Duncan, A., Smith, J., Sprengel, M., Welton, R., & Jonas, W. (2012). The Effectiveness of Acupuncture Research Across Components of the Trauma Spectrum Response (TSR): A Systematic Review of Reviews. Systematic Reviews, 1(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/2046-4053-1-46
Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score. [VitalSource Bookshelf]. Retrieved from https://bookshelf.vitalsource.com/#/books/9781101608302/
White, A., & Ernst, E. (2004). A Brief History of Acupuncture. Rheumatology, 662–663. https://doi.org/10.1093/rheumatology/keg005.