Acupuncture in battle? Some experts swear it’s possible

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joshua Magbanua
  • 86th Airlift Wing Publics Affairs
Military aerospace medical experts from around the Kaiserslautern Military Community and allied countries gathered on Ramstein to discuss various topics surrounding aerospace medicine.

During the annual conference, which was a collaboration of the Ramstein Aerospace Medicine Summit and the NATO Scientific Technical Organization, discussions ranged from factors influencing flight fatigue, preventing cardiovascular disease in aviators, medical evacuations in remote areas, to space medicine as an example of international cooperation.

“It’s open to all flavors of aerospace medicine across those countries,” said Col. Billy D. Pruett, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa aerospace medicine division chief. “We have flight surgeons, nurses, aerospace physiologists, and more. This allows aerospace medicine professionals to keep up on current research and standards from across our allies, and to help with interoperability and cooperation for standards and the challenging environments of aerospace medicine and aeromedical evacuation.”

One of the topics presented was battlefield acupuncture.

Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine believed to originate in Ancient China. It involves inserting needles into a patient’s body with the intention of curing ailments such as pain and headaches. The practice eventually made its way into western medicine.

Although acupuncture itself has existed for thousands of years, the battlefield method has emerged relatively recently, said Pruett.

The modified version of the ancient therapy was created in the early 2000s by retired Air Force Col. Richard C. Niemtzow, a radiation oncologist. Although Niemtzow initially intended it to be a fast and reliable pain treatment for troops in a combat zone, the practice soon spread into non-combat environments.

While traditional acupuncture is applied to different parts of the body, Niemtzow’s battlefield acupuncture focuses mainly on the ear.

Pruett explained that in hostile environments such as combat, the ear is generally more accessible than other parts of the body.

“The idea is to provide quick access to acupuncture sites in a challenging environment, and to provide rapid pain relief not only in a war zone, but also in challenging training environments,” Pruett explained.

Retired Air Force Col. Thomas R. Piazza, M.D., Air Force Acupuncture Program director, discussed how to apply battlefield acupuncture. After lecturing the conference attendees on the topic, he showed them how to apply their newly gained knowledge.

Piazza advocated for the practice, saying he has seen positive effects from patients who received it. He gave an example of a patient who came into his clinic with chest pain. The patient was sent home with some Motrin, but came back the next day with no improvement. That’s when the personnel at the clinic tried a different treatment.

“The flight surgeon was trained in ear acupuncture, so he administered a simple ear acupuncture technique,” Piazza said. “The patient experienced an essentially immediate relief of pain.”

As the exchange of information flowed, the conference served as a medium for medical practitioners from different nations to work together in a field of study where developments are constant.