What is acupuncture? Acupuncture is a method of delivering health care which originated in China over five thousand years ago. Researchers around the globe are beginning to reveal the mechanisms of acupuncture’s effectiveness. Armed with a growing understanding of chronic pain and its relation to chemicals in the brain and body as well as advanced scanning technology, these researchers are developing an evidence-based picture of how acupuncture works. Acupuncture treatment has effects where the needles are placed and in areas distant from where the treatment is performed. There is evidence that acupuncture needles cause the release of body chemicals which promote tissue healing in the region where they are inserted. The treatment also reduces pain by two mechanisms. First, pain transmissions at the level of the spinal cord are suppressed. Second, chemical transmitters (including endorphins) are released in the brain; also suppressing the sensation of pain.
Where does Battlefield Acupuncture fit in with traditional acupuncture? Traditional acupuncture is commonly thought of as the application of dozens of needles at various points on the trunk of the body and/or its extremities. Through time, various schools of acupuncture in China, France, Korea, and Japan have developed a style of practice which emphasizes more limited and focused needle placements. Examples include scalp acupuncture, hand acupuncture, and ear acupuncture. Battlefield Acupuncture is a form of acupuncture in which needles are placed only on the surface of the ear. The theory behind ear acupuncture is that the entire body and all of its functions are represented on various points on the ear. This representation allows treatment of far-ranging conditions using needles applied only to the ear. There is scientific evidence which confirms the connections between regions of the ear and the distant body functions, and research which confirms therapeutic benefit when needles are inserted in the ear region corresponding to areas of illness or pain.
Where did Battlefield Acupuncture come from? Battlefield Acupuncture was created by Dr. Richard Niemtzow while on active duty in the United States Air Force in 2001. Dr. Niemtzow discovered that a very specific sequence of needles inserted into the ears would provide rapid and highly effective relief of many types of pain.
Tell me about the needles… do they hurt? Battlefield Acupuncture uses very small semi-permanent needles which are inserted into the skin of the outer surface of the ear at five distinct points. Most patients experience minor discomfort when these needles are placed, and the discomfort will go away in a short amount of time. The needles remain in place for two to four days, at which time they will fall out on their own. Occasionally the needles will become uncomfortable when sleeping or when something brushes against the ear (such as the telephone). If the needles are causing discomfort or distress. they may be easily removed with fingernails or with tweezers.
Is there anyone who should avoid Battlefield Acupuncture? Over many years, the Battlefield Acupuncture technique has proven to be safe and effective for a broad variety of patients and pain conditions. However, if you are pregnant (or might be pregnant), or if you are afraid of needles (or have fainted when being treated with needles in the past) – you should not undergo Battlefield Acupuncture treatment. If you have a bleeding disorder (or take medications which thin the blood), your risk of bleeding or bruising is increased. You may still undergo Battlefield Acupuncture, but you should discuss this increased risk with your provider. There are also specific restrictions on performing Battlefield Acupuncture on patients who are on Flight Status or other have other special duties. If you are a rated pilot, your Battlefield Acupuncture treatment will need to be coordinated with your Flight Surgeon.
What are the possible side effects of Battlefield Acupuncture? All medical procedures carry the risk of side effects. Acupuncture has a long history of safety, and side effects are very rare. The risks of acupuncture (all uncommon), include: discomfort or pain at the needled sites, bleeding or bruising, inflammation, infection, broken needles, feeling dizzy or nauseated, fainting, and feeling euphoric or lightheaded. Drowsiness can also occur. If you undergo several treatments, temporary discoloration may occur on the treated area of the ear. It is possible for existing symptoms to become worse after Battlefield Acupuncture, this is nearly always temporary and is considered a positive sign that you are responding to the treatment. Remembering that we are still learning all the mechanisms by which acupuncture works, it follows that we may not have completely identified additional risks of acupuncture treatment. All the same, remember that thousands of years of treatments serve as a testament to the safety of acupuncture!
Will Battlefield Acupuncture help me? In the course of treating thousands of patients in the past decade, the experience at the Air Force Acupuncture Center suggests that approximately 80% of people will have pain symptoms reduced by Battlefield Acupuncture. A small percentage of people will not respond to the Battlefield Acupuncture protocol. There is no way to determine who will respond and who will not prior to initiating the treatment. Some patients obtain permanent relief of pain with a single treatment, some patients receive only brief relief. The majority of patients can expect to have several days of relief with the first treatment, and subsequent treatments often extend the period of symptom reduction.
What can I do to optimize my treatment? On the day of your treatment, avoid strenuous exercise, heavy house work, or yard work. Avoid alcohol and sex for a minimum of six hours before and after the treatment. Eat a healthy, moderate diet all day, to include a light meal before receiving your treatment. Unless instructed otherwise by your regular doctor, continue all of your medications during acupuncture treatment. Keep written notes of your response to the treatment – the status of your pain, changes in sleep, energy levels, and feelings of well being. Bring these notes with you so that your Battlefield Acupuncture provider can use them to personalize your treatment.
Where can I get more information?
The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture: http://www.medicalacupuncture.org
Acupuncture Today: http://www.acupuncturetoday.com
The Pacific College of Oriental Medicine: http://www.pacificcollege.edu
Adapted from training material provided by the Air Force Acupuncture Center.