Friday, December 12, 2008

Battlefield Acupuncture

Stephen M. Burns, a specialist in acupuncture, inserts a needle into the ear of Lt. Col. Catherine A. Reardon to treat her headaches and hand pain. (Baltimore Sun photo by Glenn Fawcett / December 9, 2008)

Col. Anyce Tock, chief of medical services for the Air Force Surgeon General, said two days ago that the service has authorized 32 active-duty physicians to begin "battlefield acupuncture" training. They announced today that they will begin teaching their physicians deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan early next year.

This endorsement of acupuncture by the traditionally conservative military medical community is very exciting news!!

Acupuncture has been used effectively in acute trauma and chronic pain, and even for analgesia during surgery. It is relatively easy to administer, requiring only a trained professional and a pack of needles, with little to no side effects. It has a wide range of applications, effective in reducing physical pain as well as emotional and psychological trauma. Acupuncture works best, with the most pronounced results, in the acute stage of injuries and when administered often.

There is an entire arsenal of tools that can be used in the battlefield when it comes to TCM traumatology and martial arts medicine. Besides acupuncture, there are highly effective herbs that can be used externally in conjunction with conventional pharmaceutical pain killers, and tui na body manipulation and bone setting techniques to treat physical disorders like dislocated limbs or broken bones.

The use of Chinese medicine to treat our wounded soldiers immediately after injury on the battlefield would offer them a bit of reprieve from their pain and suffering while in transit from the field to a medical facility. It can then be used to help them in rehabilitation after their necessary surgeries and other medical procedures. It's wonderful that the military is exploring the use of Chinese medicine to complement and enhance the treatment of our nation's service men and women.

Some excerpts from the Baltimore Sun story below:
Battlefield acupuncture has been especially effective among patients suffering from a combination of combat wounds, typically a brain injury or severed limbs, burns and penetrating wounds along with severe disorientation and anxiety.

But neither does acupuncture provoke the kind of adverse side effects, allergic reactions and potential addiction associated with powerful psychotropic drugs often used to dull the pain of the severely wounded.

"This is one of the fastest pain attenuators in existence - the pain can be gone in five minutes," said Niemtzow, a physician, acupuncturist and senior adviser to the Air Force surgeon general.

"We use acupuncture as an adjunct" to traditional therapy, said Niemtzow. "The Chinese have used it for 5,000 years. It works, and it's powerful."

"Acupuncture has been very helpful for people for whom other treatment has failed," said Lt. Col. Terri L. Riutcel, an Air Force psychiatrist who deployed to Iraq last year where she treated victims of roadside bomb blasts, among other injuries.

Acupuncture "is very well tolerated and there are very few side effects," apart from occasional bruising, she said. "I think it has tremendous potential for military medicine."

Battlefield acupuncture caught the eye of U.S. Army Rangers, who often operate in remote locations. At their invitation, Niemtzow and his team trained some Rangers last summer.

Nonetheless, advocates of the practice recognize that they must overcome skepticism within the ranks of military doctors.

"Oh, sure, some haven't gotten the word," said Burns, the clinic chief. "We are very much ahead of the curve."

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