Acupuncture for the Trauma Spectrum Response: A Reading List


Faced with more than 11 years of combat deployment, the US military is motivated to find innovative solutions to sustained problems. Samueli Institute’s collaborations with the US military expand drugless pain management, alleviate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), heal from traumatic brain injuries (TBI), develop resilience, and promote Total Force Fitness.

One factor that makes treating Service members challenging, is that when they return from combat, their symptoms, such as chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), cognitive deficits, sleep and drug use and neuropsychiatric conditions often coexist. They have multiple problems that occur together.

Individuals with chronic pain, for example, often report depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, fatigue and changes in physical and cognitive functioning, as well as difficulties with motivation, anger and social relationships.

TSRThese patterns of response to poly-trauma have been referred to by different names including Complex Multi-symptoms Illness and Post-Deployment Multi-Symptom Disorder; however, we refer to this constellation of symptoms as the Trauma Spectrum Response or TSR.

TSR can be elicited when individuals are exposed to environmental and/or psychosocial stress and injury, such as that faced in combat, and can present a core pattern of common symptoms including:

  • Emotional Dysfunction, including psychological and emotional distress, depression, anxiety, anger and PTSD
  • Cognitive Dysfunction, including deficits in memory, attention, and concentration as well as difficulties with problem solving
  • Headaches and chronic pain
  • Somatic Dysfunctions including fatigue, sleep disturbances, and sexual problems
  • Addiction and substance abuse

So, not only do Service members who have experienced a traumatic injury suffer from the physical injury, but they can also be affected by some or all of these co-morbid symptoms.


This pattern of symptoms is a growing problem, afflicting thousands of Service members. As such, identifying appropriate self-management and treatment interventions for PTSD, TBI, chronic pain and their related co-morbid symptoms is critically important.

Samueli Institute began exploring acupuncture as a potential treatment approach the trauma spectrum  a decade ago because it appears to be safe, effective and non-stigmatizing.

We found that it can be highly effective as an addition to conventional treatment for healing the entire trauma spectrum, not just one or two of its symptoms. Indeed, it appears that acupuncture, when properly applied may “reset” the individual to a functional life even when other treatments have failed. To learn more about our acupuncture studies, read the following journal articles that Samueli Institute has authored over the past few years:

  • 2014: Randomized effectiveness trial of a brief course of acupuncture for posttraumatic stress disorder—Read more
  • 2013: Acupuncture for posttraumatic stress disorder: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials and prospective clinical trials—Read more
  • 2012: The effectiveness of acupuncture research across components of the trauma spectrum response (TSR): a systematic review of reviews.—Read more
  • 2011: Acupuncture research in military and veteran populations: a rapid evidence assessment of the literature—Read more

Additional Acupuncture studies are searchable on our Research Archives.