Battlefield acupuncture treatment was first pioneered by retired Air Force Col. and physician Richard Niemtzow back in 2001, back then practiced by less than 100 military doctors, now practiced by over 6,000 providers. It has been a game changer for active duty and veteran military members in pain relief, helping to reduce and even eliminate the overuse or need for pain medication.
What is Battlefield Acupuncture?
Battlefield acupuncture, despite the name, isn’t used to replace western medical care for active duty and veteran military members war-related conditions, but to aid in pain relief and mental health relief. Alleviating pain is an integral step in their healing and recovery from a variety of combat wounds both physical and mental. Battlefield acupuncture is an auriculotherapy that is simple to administer, and easily transportable leaving military service members able to participate in life and work with more ease.
As acupuncture providers, we know that the entire body and its functions are represented on different points of the ear allowing for us to treat various conditions potentially using only these points. The developer of battlefield acupuncture, Richard Niemtzow, found that connecting 5 points in the ear allows for significant reduction in pain.
5 Battlefield Acupuncture Points:
- Point Zero
- Shen Men
- Cingulate Gyrus
Although all five points are classically used, many acupuncture providers only use two. This type of acupuncture is beneficial, and was initially developed for deployment settings as it is fast, effective, and the needles can be left in for short periods of time.
Benefits for soldiers wounded in active duty:
- Reduction in Pain Medication – it is well known that there is an opioid epidemic in the United States, especially amongst those in the military. Some military members who are prescribed pain medications prefer to avoid them. Battlefield acupuncture and traditional acupuncture allows military members to seek an alternative to pain management therapy.
- Rapid Pain Reduction – active duty members who are injured or wounded in the line of duty can have battlefield acupuncture applied promptly, even if the soldier is still wearing a helmet, to relieve acute severe pain.
- Chronic Pain Relief – veterans who have been wounded or injured in the line of duty more often than not suffer from chronic pain long after they have left the service. Patients who receive Battlefield and/or traditional acupuncture find pain relief that pain medications have not provided.
This technique is also effective for anyone with chronic pain, not just those within the military.
Battlefield Acupuncture Needles
The needles used for this technique are the French auriculotherapy needles known as ASP (Aiguille – meaning “needle” in French Semi-Permanent) needles which come in titanium, gold, or stainless steel (also known as classic). These are only 1 millimeter in length, and gold is most often the metal used in these needles. The major benefit of this technique is that Battlefield Acupuncture allows patients to feel pain relief after patients leave the treatment, and for days after. It is believed that the ASP needles send messages to the healing center of the brain correcting the patient’s pathology, and leaving these needles in the ear for 2 – 4 days sends continuous correspondence with the brain, prolonging pain reduction.
Battlefield Acupuncture Patient Protocol & Benefits
There is not a big difference between the protocol for Battlefield acupuncture and traditional acupuncture. However, there are certain things that should be noted while placing these ASP needles in the ear, and advice to give patients afterwards since these needles remain in the ear after treatment.
BFA Patient Protocol:
- Be sure to let the patient know that they may have mild soreness where the needles are inserted, and in between needle insertions ask the patient to move or walk and note their response.
- After 2 – 4 days, the needles must be removed.
- Advise the patient to relax for 24 hours with no heavy yard work, exercise, or house work.
- Advise the patient that while they can shower with the ASP needles in place, they need to be mindful not to pull the needles when cleaning or drying the ears.
- Ask the patient to note their pain level each day, and how they feel and sleep.
- Depending on your practice, preference, or comfortability with the patient’s capabilities to do so, have them either return in 2 – 4 days or have them remove the needles themselves at home with their fingernails or a pair of tweezers rocking the needle back and forth.
When performing battlefield acupuncture on a patient, it is important to monitor their pain after treatment on days 1, 2, and 3 that needles are in their ear.
Pain Notation Questions:
- What level is your pain?
- How much has pain interfered with your usual activity?
- How much has pain interfered with your sleep?
- How much has pain interfered with your mood?
- How much has pain interfered with your stress?
Using this scale of pain, it will be helpful for both the patient and the acupuncture provider to know where to take treatment from that point.
Battlefield Acupuncture for Chronic Pain Management
If you are looking to aid active duty and veteran military personnel within your practice or possibly be a part of those that treat military members on the battlefield, battlefield acupuncture has quickly become standard part of military care, especially in Veterans Affairs Healthcare Administration facilities.
A study in 2020, Battlefield Acupuncture for Chronic Pain Management in Patients on Long-Term Opioid Therapy, showed Battlefield Acupuncture to be significantly effective for immediate pain reduction. As acupuncture providers, we already know the considerable benefits of auricular acupuncture. Through the implementation of Battlefield acupuncture, practitioners are able to address chronic pain faster, more effectively, and for longer periods of time. In addition, Battlefield acupuncture also helps out our armed services community.