How Is TRE Effective in the Trauma Space?

“All humans have an innate capacity to heal from traumatic experiences. As a species we are genetically encoded with the capacity to heal ourselves.” – Dr David Berceli

Trauma release exercises (TRE) are somatic practices for people with anxiety, trauma, or PTSD that are gaining popularity and recognition around the world. 

TRE is designed to specifically target unresolved traumatic memories or experiences stored in the body. The tension- and trauma-releasing exercises trigger neurogenic tremors that allow the body to reduce the charge of stress hormones and unhealthy chemical build up. By repeating the exercises and activating the tremor mechanism, re-organizational behavior emerges, which lowers stress and tension and returns the body and nervous system to a healthy baseline. 

TRE is adopted as both a preventative measure and trauma treatment in multiple high-stress contexts. TRE training is provided to military and emergency services in the US, Brazil, Switzerland, Norway, Austria, Ukraine, Canada, and Poland. Those who engage in regular TRE practices report better sleep, lower stress, better mood, and a release of tension and stress.

Research and Medical Use 

Although many who have engaged with TRE report holistic benefits, it has not been evaluated by the US Food & Drug Administration or the American Medical Association. While its therapeutic benefits are widely argued[1], TRE is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. It can be thought of as part of a toolbox for dealing with stress and trauma.

How Trauma Affects the Body

Trauma exposure can lead to a wide range of biological changes and stress responses[2]. These physiological changes are linked with the development of PTSD and substance use disorders.

Particular changes that elicit profound effects on quality of life include:

  • Changes in limbic system functioning.
  • Hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis activity changes with variable cortisol levels.
  • Neurotransmitter-related dysregulation of arousal and endogenous opioid systems.

Trauma is experienced whenever an event exceeds our abilities to handle and cope with its consequences[2]. Car accidents, sexual abuse, robbery, and war are all common examples of situations that result in trauma. The energy of the trauma is stored in our bodies’ tissues – primarily in our muscles and fascia – until it can be released.

Trauma stored in the body disrupts homeostasis and generally leads to pain, causes short and long-term effects on many organs and systems, and progressively erodes a body’s health[3]. Increased levels of cortisol, disrupted heart rhythms, and muscle tightness can all affect quality of life and romal function. Sleep often becomes disrupted, and aches, pains, and tightness affect physical well being and can disrupt work or recreational activities. In addition, the gut can come under particular stress, and many people develop a sensitivity to certain foods and, in some cases, even develop allergies, intolerances, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

As the renowned trauma researcher and clinician, Bessel Van Der Kolk, explains:  a consistent sense of fear, danger, and helplessness causes the continuous secretion of stress hormones. This wreaks havoc on the immune system and the overall functioning of the body’s organs. Only through helping trauma victims feel safe inhabiting their bodies and teaching them to tolerate the sensations that arise can lasting healing transpire [3]. 

How Triggers Affect the Body 

Triggers can be certain people, places, sensations such as smells or sounds, feelings, or things that induce (trigger) a stress-based physical or emotional response that is based on a past traumatic experience. These can be internally generated or rooted in the external environment, and while there are some common triggers such as loud noises or feeling out of control, a trigger can manifest as almost anything at all. 

Some people try hard to avoid things that they know trigger them, while others may be completely unaware of their triggers and not yet recognize that they have a certain response. Identifying your triggers can be difficult, and learning to manage them takes time and often requires various resources. TRE is a great method to learn, whether you are aware of your triggers or not. Without directly discussing the trauma, people are able to release tension that it is causing. Triggers can be more detrimental or powerful when we are tired, stressed, on edge, or outside our “window of tolerance.” By engaging in a regular TRE practice, you can actually lessen these contributing factors, which settles the nervous system and improves sleep[2]. Therapy and medication are two great clinical options for dealing with trauma and identifying triggers, but there is also a place for TRE in helping you return to a state of relative homeostasis and calm, which improves tolerance and resilience. 

TRE as a Tool for Overcoming Trauma 

While not a treatment, TMS can be an effective tool for overcoming complex trauma. By processing and releasing unresolved trauma that has been stored in the body, trauma victims, including those with PTSD, can begin to feel safe and balanced in their bodies. War veterans in particular report a range of improvements in physical and emotional wellbeing following TRE intervention[4]. 

However, for those with mild to major trauma, the seven trauma release exercises shouldn’t be attempted without consultation with a trained professional. It is important that TRE is carried out in a safe, relaxing space without distraction or potential triggers. 

While it may seem strange, disconcerting, or even unnerving at first, the tremor mechanism that TRE induces is a natural and healthy process that – with the support of a trained professional – can help survivors of trauma regain balance and control in their lives. 


[1] Berceli, D., Salmon, M., Bonifas, R., & Ndefo, N. (2014). Effects of Self-induced Unclassified Therapeutic Tremors on Quality of Life Among Non-professional Caregivers: A Pilot Study. Global advances in health and medicine, 3(5), 45–48.

[2] Solomon, E. P., & Heide, K. M. (2005). The Biology of Trauma: Implications for Treatment. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 20(1), 51–60.

[3] Van der Kolk, B. A. (2015). The body keeps the score: brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York, New York, Penguin Books.

[4] Heath, R., & Beattie, J. (2019). Case report of a former soldier using TRE (tension/trauma releasing exercises) for post- traumatic stress disorder self-care. Journal of Military and Veterans Health, 27(3), 35–40.


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