Stress Disorder

How Massage Can Be An Effective

PTSD Treatment

Woman having a detress massage

PTSD can be a complex stress disorder, and finding a suitable treatment can be difficult.

PTSD can be caused by any number of traumas – from stress in returning service men and  women, domestic violence, car crash and other accidents to being a result of a stressful job (such as law enforcement).

There are a number of treatments available, and massage has been shown to be effective in some cases. Here are the most popular treatments for PTSD.

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1. Massage Therapy

Massage therapy is fast becoming one of the most promising avenues of PTSD treatment.

Practitioners believe that it may help patients through a variety of channels, such as reducing feelings of depression and lightening mood. It may also benefit patients through physical channels by reducing pain and tension

Perhaps most interestingly of all, there is evidence that massage therapy may help patients who experience dissociation as part of their PTSD.

Research has found that mind-body approaches are effective at reconnecting people with physical sensations, boosting their overall self-reported well being.  

Note, though, that the evidence for the benefits of massage is by no means definitive.

While you can make a strong case, many of the studies are small.

Researchers require more extensive trials to make more definitive statements about the use of massage as an adjunct therapy. 

Some therapists believe that it is not the massage itself that matters, but how the therapist conducts the session.

The best massage therapists consult at length with their clients beforehand and allow them to ask questions.

They then respond to client needs during the session, including stopping altogether if the client requests it. 

PTSD forces people to feel like they no longer want to be a part of their bodies.

Massage therapy reconnects traumatized clients to their physicality by not only soothing them but also creating a sense that their bodies are a benefit, not a cost.

2. Cognitive Processing Therapy

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is a kind of talk therapy specifically designed to ease the symptoms of PTSD.

Unlike psychoanalytic psychotherapy where you dive deep into the bowels of your unconscious for years on end, CPT typically involves weekly 60 to 90-minute sessions held over a relatively short 12-week period. 

The idea here is to deal with the immediate fallout of the traumatic event, not engender any fundamental character change.

The therapy, therefore, is heavily “technique-based.”

Skilled professionals use a range of cognitive-behavioural approaches to encourage you to process the traumatic event and stop it from taking over your life.

Typically, therapists opt for CPT in situations where people blame themselves for their PTSD, rather than the circumstances that led to it. 

Is it effective?

Researchers based at the University of Missouri St Louis and the National Center for PTSD in Boston found evidence that it is.

Participants who received psychology treatment for PTSD experienced improvements in their condition, regardless of their background or culture, even if they received therapy through an interpreter. 

3. Exposure Therapy

Researchers believe that PTSD develops into a severe condition when the patient learns to fear situations, thoughts or feelings that remind them of a traumatic event.

Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) designed to help people disentangle these connections in their minds and improve their mental health.

This type of treatment involves carefully exposing a patient to uncomfortable thoughts, slowly desensitizing them to it. 

Take the example of a victim of sexual assault.

During exposure therapy, the therapist may ask the survivor to recall their feelings of fear and distress. While it might seem like an odd approach, the idea is to help the patient overcome their negative feelings slowly through careful and repeated imagining of the trauma.

Over time, the patient comes to terms with the experience and can look at it from a healthy perspective. 

Often therapists do not begin with exposure to the primary trauma. Instead, they rehearse with less upsetting life experiences first.

Many also combine exposure therapy with relaxation techniques, designed to help patients confront their most difficult thoughts and feelings from a place of strength. 

While exposure therapy is controversial, there is strong support for its implementation in the medical literature. A study by the Emory University School of Medicine found that “exposure therapy is a safe and effective treatment for PTSD when applied as directed by experienced therapists.”

4. Stress Inoculation Training

Stress inoculation training is a generic technique targeted at people enduring high levels of stress in their lives.

For that reason, some practitioners believe that it may have benefits in cases of PTSD, a condition characterized by a prolonged inability to relax mind and body. 

Stress inoculation training or SIT is a type of CBT that relies on talk therapy and specific techniques to help improve a patient’s quality of life.

Several studies now show that SIT protocols can have a positive effect on outcomes. A survey of veterans by the California School of Professional Psychology found that group SIT sessions over 18 months were effective in reducing PTSD and improving quality of life. 

One study shows that different types of treatment, such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, were more effective, even if global outcomes were similar.

Ali Saoirse Ripple Massage

Ripple is a professional mobile massage therapy business, run by Ali who also holds an Advanced Diploma in Psychology, as well as being a qualified remedial massage therapist.

Ripple provides mobile massage by highly experienced and qualified massage therapists across Australia.

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5. Eye Movement Desensitization And Reprocessing

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing or EMDR is an unusual form of therapy for PTSD.

Here, the therapist doesn’t speak to the patient directly about their experiences. Instead, they ask the patient to recall thoughts in their mind while at the same time performing some kind of physical movement.

Traditionally, this was moving your eyes back and forth in their sockets (although there is now a more extensive array of accepted movements).

Therapists believe that by focusing the patient on the uncomfortable thoughts while moving a part of the body, they can better confront the issues behind PTSD and neutralize them. 

The evidence supporting EMDR for PTSD is strong. A trial published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry revealed that EMDR was both safe and effective. PTSD symptoms such as anxiety, depression, delusions, and hallucinations all improved markedly following the treatment, and the study concluded that the technique helped to improve self-esteem. 

6. Boost Physical Activity

Physical activity may also help patients with PTSD. Because physical activity can be enjoyable, researchers believe that it may reduce levels of stress and assist with the management of symptoms too. 

Is there any clinical evidence for all this? The answer is “yes.”

Researchers at the Anglia Ruskin University in the UK, for instance, found that surfing helped veterans who had been through traumatic experiences improve their state of mind.

The sport, the participants reported, gave them a sense of freedom – something that helped them to escape the day-to-day turmoil of their lives. 

Researchers think that this effect resulted from the psychological notion of “flow.”

Surfing, it seemed, helped the veterans in the study connect with nature and reintegrate with their bodies holistically while, at the same time, having fun.

The sensation and demands of the activity emptied their minds of traumatic experiences, allowing them to feel better. 

Surfing, of course, isn’t the only option available to patients.

Many practitioners have found that other sports, including Tai Chi, are also useful.

Researchers found that practising the martial art helped to reduce distressing thoughts and improved ability to concentrate.

It also reduced chronic symptoms, such as physiological arousal, boosting their quality of life once sessions drew to a close. 

7. Aromatherapy

While mainstream approaches have some effectiveness, they don’t work for all PTSD patients all of the time.

For this reason, the search is on for alternative therapies. 

Some practitioners believe that aromatherapy may help to relieve symptoms in some patients. 

Evidence from animal studies, for instance, finds that orange essential oils may be effective at reducing feelings of chronic stress and anxiety.

Lavender essential oils may have similar benefits.

Human studies on the effectiveness of aromatherapy for treating PTSD are lacking, but the anecdotal evidence supporting it can’t be ignored.

Many practitioners have found that particular scents help their patients feel more relaxed, especially when combined with massage.

Popular oils include sage and peppermint, typically applied to the spot right between the eyebrows. 


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Author Biography – Ali Saoirse –  BEc University Sydney, GradDipPsych Bond University, Diploma Remedial Massage, Certificate IV Massage, Level 7 Kahuna Massage, Qualifications in Pregnancy Massage, Hot Stone Massage, Aromatherapy, Reflexology from Gold Coast TAFE.

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