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Military Use of ‘Battlefield Acupuncture’

By Diane Sheppard, Ph.D, L.Ac.

We have all suffered from stress and pain. But imagine being in a war zone where blast wounds, missing limbs, traumatic brain injury, and PTSD are common occurrences. Doctors on the battlefield and in VA hospitals face this suffering every day, and according to the armed forces magazine Stars and Stripes, they are finding that Western medicine alone doesn’t always work in relieving the suffering. Recently, many are turning to acupuncture to get relief for their patients.

In 2001, an Air Force doctor developed a type of acupuncture using points on the ear that can be administered in frontline hospitals–as well as right on the battlefield — to treat pain. Often referred to as “battlefield acupuncture,” it is not designed to replace standard medical care for war-related injuries, but to assist in pain relief, and in many cases, eliminate the need for pain medication.

The Air Force sees it as one of the more promising alternatives for treating combat pain instituting the first full-time military acupuncture clinic at Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Joint Base Andrews, MD. In 2009, the center launched a program to train more than 30 military doctors to use acupuncture in the war zone and at their base clinics.

ear-accupunctureCol. Dominic DeFrancis, medical corps director for the Air Force Surgeon General says, “I think we realized with some of the tremendous injuries these folks have … we certainly want to find an alternative to help them out, and to eliminate or reduce their use of pain medication.” DeFrancis further notes that acupuncture has few side effects and no apparent drug interactions, and it works quickly — allowing some troops with pain to return to duty faster. “This is an effective therapy that works and should be part of our physicians’ capabilities,” he said.

The US Army has also implemented several programs incorporating complementary and alternative medicine to treat symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One of these programs, the Warrior Combat Stress Reset Program at Ft. Hood, Texas has experienced significant success with acupuncture. In a recent CNN special, Dr. Wayne Jonas, President of Samueli Institute, Military Medical Research stated, “We put together a study to see if we can actually insert this simple acupuncture technique (auricular acupuncture) during the aerovacs of wounded soldiers.” A soldier interviewed in the CNN special said that if he didn’t have the acupuncture needles, he’d be “chomping narcotics.”

The military’s use of battlefield acupuncture further demonstrates the powerful effects of this ancient practice on rapid pain and stress relief.

Diane Sheppard is a licensed acupuncturist with a Ph.D. in Oriental Medicine. She is a staff practitioner at Eisenhower Wellness Institute and owner of AcQPoint Wellness Center in La Quinta. 760-775-7900 www.AcQPoint.com

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