Massage therapists were among the health care professionals who poured into New York, New York, to offer assistance to rescue workers—police officers, fire personnel and search-and-rescue personnel—immediately following the World Trade Center attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

New research indicates that more than 15 percent of police officers who responded to the attacks on the World Trade Center are still living with symptoms of subsyndromal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while more than 5 percent suffer from full PTSD. (Subsyndromal means that symptoms fall just short of what’s required for a diagnosis of the disorder.)

Previous, unrelated research studies have indicated massage relaxes the autonomic nervous system, lessens stress, reduces blood pressure, reduces depression and boosts immune-system function.

Researchers assessed 8,466 police who worked or volunteered as part of rescue, recovery, restoration or cleanup in Manhattan south of Canal Street, at the barge-loading piers in Manhattan, or the Staten Island landfill between Sept. 11 and Dec. 31, 2001.

Participants completed an initial evaluation as part of the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program. An interview assessed level of WTC exposure, such as early arrival, being caught in the dust cloud, or exposure to human remains.

A range of self-report psychiatric assessments were completed, including:

• measures of depression, panic disorder,and alcohol use;

• impairment in work, social or family life; and

• somatic symptoms, such as feeling run down or having headaches.

“The prevalence of full PTSD observed in this study (5.4 percent) was comparable to previous studies of police responders to the World Trade Center disaster. However, the rate of subsyndromal PTSD was nearly three times greater (15.4 percent), suggesting that one in five police exposed to World Trade Center rescue and recovery work may have clinically significant WTC-related PTSD symptoms,” said lead investigator Robert H. Pietrzak, Ph.D., of the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, VA Connecticut Healthcare System, and Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine.

“Further, subsyndromal PTSD, which is not commonly assessed as part of screening efforts, was associated with elevated rates of comorbid psychiatric disorders, functional difficulties, somatic symptoms, and perceived need for mental health care,” he added.

Police with subsyndromal PTSD were nearly five times as likely as controls to report that they might need at least one of the mental health services assessed, such as one-on-one counseling, stress management or psychotropic medication.

The study is published online in advance of publication in the July issue of the Journal of Psychiatric Research.

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