Study Indicates Stellate Ganglion Block Can Be Effective Treatment for PTSD

Rae Olmsted and her team began researching SGB in 2012 when COL Sean Mulvaney, Medical Corps, U.S. Army (retired), a study co-investigator, was seeing positive results using the treatment working with Special Forces members grappling with PTSD. But her interest in the causes and potential treatments of PTSD stretches back even further.

“My dad has PTSD from serving in Vietnam,” she noted. “There has always been a part of me that has wondered what is wrong with Dad, and how can we make it better? That is part of what has driven my interest.”

Portrait of Kristine Rae Olmsted

Kristine Rae Olmsted

Opening Doors

Two-thirds of the study participants received two SGB shots, and one-third received two sham injections.  Compared to the baseline, at eight weeks after treatment, symptom relief was significantly better for those patients administered SGB. Symptoms improved on average 12.6 points for SGB, compared to 6.1 for sham. A 10-point improvement is generally considered clinically significant.

In addition to studying the effects of the treatment to essentially reboot the fight or flight part of the nervous system, Rae Olmsted and her colleagues also studied whether service members would accept the treatment.  SGB takes approximately five minutes to administer and requires those receiving it to remain in a physician’s office for observation for about 20 minutes after the injection.

One participant noted that SGB isn’t a cure for PTSD—that psychotherapy was also necessary. He described SGB as “like a medicine—it’s a helper but you still have to dig into the real issues. It’s not a solution alone.”

Like Novocain in a dentist’s office, the shot has some short-term side effects, such as a droopy or reddened right eye (SGB is almost always done on the right side). But, these diminish after 6 to 12 hours, while the improvements in the PTSD symptoms last longer. While some see improvement with one treatment, others need additional injections.

While SGB has been used for nearly a century to treat chronic pain, this is the first multisite randomized trial for using it to treat PTSD.

“Some people described the treatment as opening a door—some felt significantly less anxious even when they thought about the trauma, so they were then able to do the talk therapy willingly and effectively,” Rae Olmsted noted.

For More Information

Currently, the SGB treatment is offered at a handful of military and VA locations—including Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany—and by a study co-investigator, a private practice physician located in Annapolis, Maryland.

Learn more about the methodology used for this SGB study.

Contact the Stellate Ganglion Block Team to Learn More

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