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New Treatment for PTSD Shows Promise in Clinical Trial

First multi-site randomized trial shows stellate ganglion block is effective in treating PTSD symptoms in active-duty service members


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — A clinical trial of active-duty service members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) showed that symptoms improved after receiving stellate ganglion block (SGB) injections. Results from this landmark study were published today in JAMA Psychiatry, a monthly, peer-reviewed medical journal published by the American Medical Association.


RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, conducted the eight-week clinical trial funded by the U.S. Army to determine the effectiveness of SGB in 108 active-duty service members. SGB has been used for decades to control pain, but this marks the first time its effectiveness has been shown for the treatment of PTSD symptoms.

“The stellate ganglion is like a routing center for the nervous system and controls the impulse for fight or flight,” says Kristine Rae Olmsted, MSPH, of RTI and the study’s co-primary investigator. “Anesthetizing the ganglion blocks nerve impulses temporarily. We still don’t know how SGB works to improve PTSD symptoms, but now we know that it does.”

Two injections were given to participants two weeks apart in this randomized, sham-controlled trial. Two-thirds 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.

One participant said, “I had a very radical change in feeling the first day…it has helped me not to be stressed and angry all the time. I can now let stuff go rather than blowing up about them.”

SGB is an anesthetic injection into the neck and has been shown to control pain in the head, neck and arms. In recent years, some military and civilian doctors have been administering SGB to treat patients with PTSD symptoms.

“Now we have a strong study with the highest level of evidence that shows that SGB can really help PTSD symptoms,” says COL. Sean Mulvaney, Medical Corps, U.S. Army (retired), a study co-investigator. “I hope this study finally helps patients get the relief they need.”

The study was conducted at three sites: Womack Army Medical Center in North Carolina; Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii; and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Data collection concluded in August 2018, and analysis followed.

To read the full paper in JAMA Psychiatry, visit: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2753810.