by Kathleen Skubik
The benefits of massage on PTSD are not limited to the military. The positive results from massage can be profound for folks suffering from PTSD, no matter the condition’s cause. 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, the therapist needs 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 can relax and begins to feel safe, the benefits from the massage will increase.
Massage won’t cure PTSD, but it effectively alleviates some of the worst manifestations of the syndrome. Studies show massage will improve symptoms such as chronic pain, immune system deficiencies, and stress. People living with PTSD 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.
Research published in Military Medicine reports that military veterans indicated significant reductions in anxiety, worry, depression, and physical pain after massage. The 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 particularly effective. The therapies include several modalities, including reiki, massage, meditation, yoga, and hot stone massage.
CranioSacral Therapy (CST) is particularly effective in treating PTSD. Studies performed at the Upledger Institute on Vietnam Veterans who have PTSD proved 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 complementary approaches are far preferable than resorting to medication to cope with life.
By Kathleen Skubik, Executive Director of Irene’s Myomassology Institute
Irene’s Myomassology Institute is the oldest and largest massage school in the Midwest. Founded by Irene Gauthier in 1987, the nationally accredited school continues to set high standards for massage education. Students graduate with a Michigan State Massage Therapy License and Lifetime Job Placement Assistance. Alumni are prepared to begin their new careers with a multitude of skills to best help their clients.