Use of Acupuncture in the Military on the Rise

Acupuncture Use for Military Service Members on the Rise

Due in large part to the epidemic of prescription drug use and abuse in the United States, the US military is starting to take a serious look at the effectiveness of its pain and PTSD protocols. In military bases across this country and overseas, acupuncture- along with other treatment modalities- are being put to good use.

Used primarily for PTSD and for the treatment of pain, acupuncture access is increasing for active-duty service members. In particular, auricular (ear) acupuncture is gaining quite a bit of traction for its ability to be performed quickly and in sometimes unstable circumstances. Retired Air Force Colonel Richard Niemtzow, MD has coined the term “Battlefield Acupuncture” and is now teaching physicians how to integrate this therapy into standard treatment protocols for deployed soldiers.

The amount of prescriptions for painkillers has quadrupled in the eight years between 2001 and 2009. And since these prescriptions are for long-term conditions like chronic pain and PTSD, soldiers coming home can look forward to many years of taking these drugs.

“The main purpose of this whole project is to use acupuncture to reduce the use of opioids,” Niemtzow explained. “Is there a rapid return to duty? Will they be safe when returning to duty? Is it cost effective? And, can it replace certain habit-forming pain medication?”

Lt. Col. Dan Ferris gets regular acupuncture treatments for chronic back pain. These tiny needles in his ears allow his to continue flying while deployed in Afghanistan. Opioids would make him unfit for flying, and effectively remove him from duty. “Acupuncture helps with the pain, to the point of removing it,” Ferris said recently from Kandahar Air Field.

Critics have cited a lack of empirical evidence supporting the claims that acupuncture can treat pain as effectively as opioids. But in the eyes of many, the results speak for themselves. Dr. Ron White writes: “There’s no risk; it gives you benefit. Our goal — my end result — is function. If you come to me complaining that you can’t play with your kids, you can’t sleep at night, you can’t work, and six months later, I have you playing, sleeping and back to work, I don’t care if it’s placebo.”

With perseverance, determination, better science, and a little luck, we could begin to see these adaptive protocols available at all military bases and medical centers. And because acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine works towards recovery and reparation, we could be seeing a generation of soldiers made whole and strong again—without the daily dependence on opioid medications.


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2 Responses to “Use of Acupuncture in the Military on the Rise”

  1. My brother who is a soldier has been meaning to use acupuncture service, but he’s quite hesitant because it might have an after effect. It’s interesting to learn that acupuncture reduces the use of opioids, which is a form of pain killer. Maybe it’s time that my brother give acupuncture a try.

    • Brenda Umana

      Yes! Send him this article. Jonathan, our Resident Acupuncturist, is a great resource to ask questions about the military and acupuncture. He served in the military himself. Your brother can set up a free consult with Jon even if he’s not in the area. Thanks for your comment 🙂

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