The Kidney, Fast Cars, And PTSD

In the world of acupuncture, each organ system is in charge of a particular emotion, and the Kidney owns fear. The Kidney is also a major player in your overall vitality and well-being. Fatigued?  Your Kidney energy probably needs a boost.  Do you suffer from pain or weakness in your low back, knees, or ankles?  Again, a deficiency of Kidney energy is likely the culprit.  The Kidney determines how well you age.  Its role is to nourish the bones, hair, and teeth. So, if you are thinning, greying, or wearing dentures right now, you can blame the Kidney. Prolonged fear or great shock weakens this organ, which is why profound fear can lead to an uncontrollable urge to urinate. When I was a child, I remember my mother making reference to someone having all of their hair fall out due to shock. At the time, I thought it was just an old wive's tale. Then I started studying acupuncture. One day, a patient came in, a man in his mid-twenties. His wife was pregnant, and they had been told two weeks prior that the baby was going to be born with severe birth defects. Over the course of a week, this man lost every bit of hair on his body. He was completely bald, his eyebrows and eyelashes were gone...and this had all happened in a single week. After the shock of the bad news, and the resulting alopecia, better news was announced: the baby was misdiagnosed and was going to be fine. This patient was relieved, of course, but he joked that the child wasn't even born yet, and was already wreaking havoc on his father's health!

I didn't work with this patient long, since I was only an intern at the time, but his treatments were based heavily on building up the energy of the Kidney that was disrupted due to the shock he had been dealt. He was treated with laser and needles, and within only a few sessions his hair began to come back, much to his relief.

We all know that fear affects the body, but it is rare to see such dramatic and immediate evidence of this. I do often see other symptoms in patients who have been traumatized. Quite often, patients who have been through fear-based ordeals will complain of low back pain. The major acupuncture points to build the energy of the Kidney are in the back, on either side of the spine at the level of the second thoracic vertebrae. I find that this entire area tends to spasm or freeze up in a gesture of self-protection in those with history of trauma.

In the case of PTSD, the Kidney energy needs to be replenished. Kidneys are also connected to the adrenals in Traditional Chinese medicine, and victims of trauma can get caught up in a state of adrenal overdrive. In the case of PTSD, the entire system seems to function in a slightly higher gear. The wires get crossed between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, and patients with PTSD will often tell me that they feel as if their bodies and minds are literally running in constant overdrive, but they can't make it stop.

I have a special gear in my car that allows me to tap into a higher RPM for short periods of time, just in case I'm in the mood to race. Since I drive like an old woman, I never use it. However, I've tested it out, and I can only use this mode if I am driving at a certain rate of speed, or it will cause damage. I liken PTSD to someone getting stuck in this mode. The qualities that we have developed to help us escape danger-the rapid heart beat, quick breathing, tense muscles, and so forth-this is racing mode. When we are in this high gear, we are powered up to fight or flee. Then the crisis ends, and we settle back into the regular gear we are in during the regular course of life.

Some people simply can't downshift back into normal gear. And for these people, operating at the highest RPM becomes their norm. This is the hyperarousal stage of PTSD; a state in which people are easily startled and hyperaware of the stimuli around them. They may also experience insomnia, outbursts of anger, nightmares, and flashbacks.

Acupuncture is a powerful way to address the symptoms of PTSD. The wonderful thing about this medicine is that it heals on every level: mental, physical, and emotional. We acupuncturists have great success in using auricular (ear) points to create equilibrium between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. We can fortify the Kidney energy, which will help to build up the adrenals and assist in eliminating unwarranted fears. Perhaps more importantly, acupuncture gives the power back to the patient. Fear, shock, PTSD-these are all rooted in helplessness. Giving PTSD sufferers a way to take the reins and become proactive in their healing is the first step to recovery.