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Capt. Yusharn Wang (left), Family Health Nurse Practitioner, and Col. Daniel Weaver, acting Chief of Medical Services, both from the 78th Medical Group, practice Auricular Therapy Acupuncture, March 1, 2014. The human ear has many points that relieve headaches and muscle pains all over the body. (U.S. Air Force photo/Misuzu Allen)
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Battlefield acupuncture fights pain, skepticism

Posted 3/7/2014   Updated 3/10/2014 Email story   Print story


by Brian Shreve
Robins Public Affairs

3/7/2014 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- When it comes to pain relief, sharp objects aren't often the remedy most consider first.

But with the realized benefits of battlefield acupuncture, that perception is quickly changing, one pin prick at a time.

Physicians and other health care providers from the 78th Medical Group attended a training session March 1 at the Robins Medical Center as part of an effort to get personnel acquainted with, and ultimately credentialed on, the practice which could soon become an alleviating addition to the base clinic.

Dr. Tom Piazza, one of three physician acupuncturists at Andrews Air Force Base, led the daylong course in which students received hands-on instruction by performing the procedure on each other, as well as other volunteers seeking reprieve from persistent pain.

The story of how acupuncture found a home in the Air Force began at Andrews where Piazza's colleague, Dr. Richard Niemtzow, created battlefield acupuncture while on active duty in 2001, since then carrying the lesson of its benefits to doctors around the world.

Master Sgt. Michael Dougherty, 78th Medical Group independent duty medical technician, had been in contact with Niemtzow for the past three years on a mission to bring battlefield acupuncture to Robins.

Though still in the planning stages, Dougherty said interest is already high among medical staff and others. Last week's class represented another milestone in that effort.

"We're still working out the details," he said. The ultimate vision is that the clinic will soon have the ability to devote half a day each week for battlefield acupuncture.

To many, acupuncture is thought of as an intricate process involving longer needles inserted into parts throughout the body.

Battlefield acupuncture, widely considered pain-free, is an oracular therapy specific to the surface of the ear and consists of five small needles, which remain in place for two to four days before they are removed or fall out on their own; though performed in minutes, results of the procedure are often felt within seconds.

Piazza pointed out how important these distinct locations in the ear are in relation to pain affecting various regions of the body.

"We're not training people to be acupuncturists, we're training them for this one particular technique," said Piazza. "And, we've found that about 80 to 86 percent of patients respond, and some of those are truly dramatic responses."

Dougherty's advocacy for the non-traditional therapy rests largely on his view that any alternative to medication is worth the Air Force's time.

"Some can no longer control or fly because of those medications," he said. "So we looked for ways we could treat their pain without taking them off status and acupuncture was one. If it this works and this keeps an airman from taking one less pill a day, that's a victory for us."

Though used for thousands of years, any brand of acupuncture has more than its share of doubters, some of whom changed their minds during last Saturday's session.

Staff Sgt. Tabitha Loomis, 78th Medical Group medical technician, had been suffering chronic pain due to a dislocated collarbone.

"This was my first time, and I was completely skeptical," said Loomis, who volunteered for battlefield acupuncture at the event. "And, I haven't been this pain-free without medication in years. I'm a believer."

5/16/2014 3:46:24 AM ET
Dearest Steve...Please google acupuncture anesthesia... Acupuncture is not a myth. It is real. In china people have open heart surgery with just acupuncture - NO ANESTHESIA.. They are awake for the process and feel no pain. Their recovery time is less and it's half the price. If you watch any of the youtube videos about acupuncture anesthesia you will no longer doubt that something as sophisticated as chinese medicine exists and cannot be reduced to the effect of toothpicks touching the skin.
Teresa Wlasiuk LAc, Los Angeles
4/21/2014 6:22:47 PM ET
I've been in medicine for 30 yrs and have found Acupuncture to be a godsend for my practice and patients. Having this tool in the office allows for an additional diagnostic and therapeutic option just like a blood test or a stethoscope. If a tool has been in use for 5000 yrs and I would suspect that it would have not weathered the test of time. There is an inherent truth to with the needle is doing to the tissues. Think Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction of Travell use an acupuncture needle in place of a hypodermic and you will realize the power.The toothpick idea was a disgrace to the discipline and needs to be jettisoned for the dialogue. We need true and independent unbiased clinicians to organize and oversee the next set of studies. Market forces are holding this research back. IMO this tool is a valid one to use and I sincerely hope that modern medicine will do the studies to discover the truth as to what is actually happening.
Stephen S. Rodrigues MD, Dallas TX
3/10/2014 11:54:18 AM ET
Large well conducted studies show that acupuncture is ineffective. For example one study shows that actors randomly poking toothpicks into patients was as effective as trained acupuncturists using needles. Anecdotes are not evidence. Studies purporting to support acupuncture typically suffer from a small study population or other defects in protocol or data analysis. Don't waste time and money on this bunk when a treatment with demonstrable effectiveness could be used in its place. httptheness.comneurologicablogindex.phpanother-acupuncture-meta-analysis-low-back-pain
Steve, Massachusetts
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