A different way to take the pain

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Nicholas Benroth
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
Acupuncture has long been a form of medical care, originating in ancient China and moving west through the world. It has only  recently started to gain momentum over the last few decades in the U.S.

Recently, military medicine has begun investigating a type of acupuncture and its benefits in combat and at clinics.

"The type of acupuncture that we learn to use is called battlefield acupuncture which is applied to the ears," Capt. Trevor Ambron, 822nd Base Defense Group physician's assistant. "The reason we place these in the ear is because during a combat situation one of the easiest spots to get to while wearing battle armor is the ear."

The technique was coined by Col. Richard Niemtzow, a full-time acupuncture physician at Malcolm Grow Medical Center, Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

Colonel Niemtzow developed the protocol which utilizes five auriculotherapy (ear) acupoints which can deliver a significant decrease in pain almost immediately.

"Nobody actually knows how acupuncture works but modern science suggests that acupuncture stimulates the nervous system to release chemicals which in turns alters the experience of pain," said Capt. Ambron. "The BA method is thought to alter the processing of pain in certain areas."

The technique involves using semi permanent needles which can be repeated several times and remain in the ears for three or four days before falling out on their own.

The sterilized needles are small enough to carry in a pocket and can be applied easily to someone wearing full combat gear. In the right combat situation, this technique could replace the need for a narcotic.

"The situation may arrive where a member is needed to help return fire," said Captain Ambron. "If a member is injured the use of narcotics risks taking the servicemember completely out of the fight and would also require the medic to pay closer attention to that person due to the nature of narcotics."

Using acupuncture can provide a rapid, safe and effective pain control keeping the member in the fight, giving them the chance to return fire for as long as they are able.

"Most applications of this technique are fortunately not needed in the battlefield and are used in the clinic," said Captain Ambron. "I try to use needles on the patients before giving them narcotics because using that method might cause them to be taken off duty."

This reduces the number of down days and enables full mission capability.

"Although acupuncture is a positive supplement for narcotics, it is not always 100 percent affective," said Captain Ambron. "Everyone takes to it differently it can work for some people but not for others."

Acupuncture is still not fully understand by the medical community, said Captain Ambron.

"Most people don't believe in acupuncture because they can't understand it, which is how I was at first," he said. "I was at a military conference in 2009 and was reading the list of courses they offered and battlefield acupuncture.

"At first acupuncture, seemed like kind of a joke but after the course and seeing it actually work on people it changed my thoughts completely," he said. "You never know if something might work or not unless you try it out; acupuncture is one of those things."