Posted on Jun 5, 2014

Brief PTSD Therapy strongly reduces symptoms of chronic pain, USF Nursing study reports

Brief PTSD Therapy strongly reduces symptoms of chronic pain, USF Nursing study reports

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a growing epidemic among veterans and military service members returning from the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan. Along with PTSD, a large percentage of veterans also experience chronic pain including the nervous system, internal organs and musculoskeletal tissues. These physical symptoms can be debilitating, and so far, no formal guidelines for treatment exits.

However, a University of South Florida College of Nursing research study reports that Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART), a brief, safe and effective treatment for PTSD strongly reduces chronic pain. The study found ART, a combination of evidence-based psychotherapies and use of eye movements, to substantially reduce concomitant pain including neuropathic symptoms and head pain.

The findings of this study appear online in the May issue of European Journal of Psycho-traumatology.

USF College of Nursing, under the leadership of Kevin Kip, PhD, FAHAprofessor and executive director for the Research Center, led a team of investigators and clinicians to conduct a randomized control trial of ART in a military population. The trial enrolled 57 service members and veterans from the Tampa Bay area.

In this study, researchers compared ART to a non-therapeutic PTSD treatment called attention control (AC) regimen. Clinicians treated half of the participants with ART, and the other half received AC, which consisted of either physical fitness assessment and planning, or career assessment and planning. After initial treatment, both groups received a three-month follow-up assessment.

According to information cited in the study, 70 percent of veterans with chronic pain in the US Veterans Administration (VA) system may have PTSD, and up to 80 percent of those with PTSD may have chronic pain. Previous studies have shown that individuals suffering with chronic pain have a much lower quality of life and that constant pain may also worsen PTSD symptoms.

“With this study, we set out to describe and quantify the types of pain frequently experienced by service members and veterans with symptoms of PTSD,” Dr. Kip said. “However, we were rather surprised as to how substantially levels of pain were reduced with ART which was being used principally to treat symptoms of PTSD.” 

ART works in two phases to alleviate PTSD symptoms and psychological conditions including depression and anxiety. The patient first visualizes in his or her mind a prior traumatic experience, which typically elicits uncomfortable physiological sensations like tightness of the chest, increased heart rate and sweating.  Then, the patient follows the clinician’s hand back and forth in a series of rapid left-to-right eye movements.

In the second phase, the patient imagines in their mind a positive solution to “replace” the distressing images they have seen with positive ones in a way that the original distressing images can no longer be accessed. ART is delivered in one to five one-hour sessions, requires no homework, and no written or verbal recall of the traumatic experience.

USF College of Nursing recently began its fourth and largest ART study. Researchers are currently recruiting 200 veterans and service members suffering from PTSD, including a high representation of those who were sexually abused or previously treated with other PTSD therapies. They will also study the cost-effectiveness of ART, and further examine how and why the therapy works.

For related stories on ART click here.