Treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder With a Jab to the Neck

Numbing a nerve in the neck could cure PTSD instantly, study suggests.

ByABC News
April 29, 2010, 2:12 PM

Apr. 30, 2010— -- A quick jab to the neck may be all it takes for immediate relief of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), according to new research from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Some doctors, however, caution that more research is necessary before the procedure is deemed safe enough for widespread use.

In a study published Friday in the journal Pain Practice, Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB), a ten-minute procedure that applies local anesthetic to a bundle of nerves in the neck, proved an effective remedy for this anxiety disorder, potentially offering an alternative to the pharmaceuticals traditionally used to treat the flashbacks, anger, anxiety, and sleep disturbances caused by PTSD.

Unwilling to take medication for the rest of his life for his PTSD, John Sullivan, 28, a retired Marine Corps Sergeant from Chicago, sought out the experimental treatment from a Chicago-based anesthesiologist, Dr. Eugene Lipov. Lipov is not part of the Walter Reed study.

While the block itself has been used to relieve certain kinds of pain since 1925, Lipov was the first to begin treating PTSD with this injection. He accepted Sullivan as part of a double-blind placebo study he's currently conducting on retired soldiers.

Sullivan was injured by a grenade explosion in 2003 while serving in Iraq. In the years that followed, he would suffer flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety, but it was not until a year ago that he was diagnosed with PTSD and was prescribed anti-anxiety medication.

"I didn't realize it at first, but I was losing my interest in going out with people, almost becoming a hermit, I wouldn't want to do work, call people... anything," Sullivan said.

But medication and therapy "wasn't working 100 percent," Sullivan said, "I'd take an anxiety pill and then I would be drowsy at work and I'd still be nervous and not want to go out with friends."

The injection, which he received two months ago, "was different," he said, "not painful and the results were within five minutes -- I felt more relaxed and calmed down. It's been great."

Because the study is placebo-controlled, Sullivan does not know if he actually received the block or a placebo procedure, but he felt that "so far it's working."