Massage Therapy Offers Relief from PTSD for First Responders
First responders—police officers, firefighters, 911 operators, EMTs (emergency medical technicians), and search and rescue personnel—put themselves in harm’s way every day in order to keep our communities safe. They are first on the scene in every dangerous and life-threatening situation. Most critically, they do this whenever necessary, sometimes even every day, without taking time in between these stressful events to recover. So while we generally think of PTSD, or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder as a concern for soldiers with battle-zone experience, in fact, first responders also have an significantly higher risk of developing PTSD than the average citizen.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is—to put it most simply—our body’s way of coping, or surviving, exposure to a traumatic event or a series of traumatic events. It is rooted in the body’s instinctive survival mode, often called the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. This instinctive mechanism enables us to react quickly and effectively to a perceived threat. For most people, this survival mode snaps on when we encounter danger, then snaps off again as soon as the danger has passed. Individuals suffering from PTSD, however, become stuck in the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. The mind perceives danger even when none is actually present, leading to a constant state of heightened awareness.
This state of hyperawareness or hyperarousal leads to the recognizable systems of PTSD such as:
- Intense feelings of fear and constant vigilance
- An unshakeable belief that one is never safe, even in the absence of real danger
- Chronic anxiety coupled with a feeling of always needing to be always “on guard”
- An inability to unwind or relax
- Uncontrolled thinking about and/or reliving the traumatic event
- Depression and/or persistent feelings of hopelessness
- Feeling disconnected; an inability to establish and maintain emotional bonds with loved ones
- Sleep problems, such as difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep
- Persistent nightmares
- Irritability; frequent and uncontrollable outbursts of anger
- Suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide) including active (making a specific plan) or passive (thoughts like “everyone would be better off without me here”) ideation
Massage Therapy Treatment for PTSD
Traditionally, PTSD is treated with cognitive and/or behavioral therapy, antidepressants and prescription medications, or a combination of both. New research indicates that adding massage therapy as a potential treatment option, in combination with other forms of talk therapy and/or medication, can also be highly effective in the treatment of PTSD for first responders.
Of course we understand that massage is relaxing! However, Therapeutic Massage Therapy isn’t simply about “feeling better”; studies show that in fact, massage therapy works by affecting the body’s biochemistry! Massage therapy has been shown to reduce the stress hormone cortisol by more than 50%, while simultaneously increasing levels of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters in the nervous system responsible for helping to reduce depression. Thus, for individuals suffering from PTSD, massage therapy can help restore the body’s mental and physical balance needed for mental health and wellbeing.
Therapeutic Massage Therapy works by mobilizing the soft tissues of the musculo-skeletal system, such as the muscles and fascia (the connective tissues that surround and connect our bones and muscles). As the licensed massage therapist addresses tightness, knots, and trigger points within the fascia and muscle groups and the hormonal balance begins to change, the relaxation response can begin and long-held patterns of stress can slowly unwind. The effect is improved circulatory, lymphatic, and neurological functioning, and a reduction in feelings of danger and anxiety.
Recovery from PTSD is a slow, challenging process that each patient will experience differently, responding in different ways to different treatments and combination of treatments. When incorporated into a comprehensive and customized treatment plan, massage therapy with an experienced and licensed massage therapy can play a highly effective role in the treatment of PTSD for first responders.
At the Tampa Massage Clinic, located in Tampa, Florida, nothing is more important than human touch. To schedule an appointment with Licensed Massage Therapist and Certified Pediatric Massage Instructor, Jakki Bosco LMT, please call (813) 298-5603.
Serving patients in and around greater Tampa Bay, Town N Country, Clearwater, St. Pete, Carrollwood, East Lake, Westchase, Land O Lakes, Wesley Chapel, Lutz, University of South Florida, Brandon, Oldsmar, Safety Harbor, Palm Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Dundin, Hillsborough County, and Pasco County Florida.