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article imageU.S. Military Approves Use of Acupuncture for Pain

By Joan Firstenberg     Jan 30, 2009 in Health
The ancient Chinese healing art of acupuncture has finally found a place in the U.S. Military. In a pilot program, it is being used to help ease the pain of the injuries U.S. soldiers suffer in Iraq and Afghanistan
Chinese medicine practitioners will be pleased. It's s step forward for the ancient art of acupuncture. The U.S. Air Force, which runs the military's only acupuncture clinic, is training doctors to take acupuncture into the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Starting in March a pilot program will prepare 44 Air Force, Navy and Army doctors to use acupuncture as part of their emergency care in combat and in frontline hospitals. It won't be just for bases at home.
And military officials say they've already seen proof of how much acupuncture can help with a soldier's pain problems. For example, Chief Warrant Officer James Brad Smith broke five ribs, punctured a lung and shattered bones in his hand and thigh after falling more than 20 feet from a Black Hawk helicopter in Baghdad last month. While recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, his doctors advised him to add acupuncture to his treatment regimen to help with the extreme pain he was feeling.
When he felt the first needle inserted into his ear he flinched and said it felt like he got "clipped by something". But by the time three more of the tiny needles were in his ear, the pain of his injuries was a distant memory.
"My ribs feel numb now and I feel it a little less in my hand," Smith said, raising his injured arm. "The pain isn't as sharp. It's maybe 50 percent better."
Really no one actually knows why acupuncture works to relieve pain. Despite this, the ancient Chinese practice has been gradually catching on as a pain treatment for troops who come home wounded.
The military doctors will be taught what's called, "battlefield acupuncture," which is traditional acupuncture but using very short needles that can fit better under combat helmets so soldiers can continue their missions with the needles still inserted to relieve their pain.
The U.S. military got acquainted with acupuncture during the Vietnam War, when an Army surgeon wrote in a 1967 edition of Military Medicine magazine about local physicians who were allowed to practice at a U.S. Army surgical hospital and administered acupuncture to Vietnamese patients.
Col. Arnyce Pock, medical director for the Air Force Medical Corps, notes that acupuncture comes without the side effects that are common after taking traditional painkillers. Acupuncture also dulls the pain quickly.
"It allows troops to reduce the number of narcotics they take for pain, and have a better assessment of any underlying brain injury they may have. When they're on narcotics, you can't do that because they're feeling the effects of the drugs."
Doctors say acupuncture isn't a panacea. They say in some cases it doesn't work. Col. Richard Niemtzow, an Air Force physician, who developed the military acupuncture program says...
"But it can be another tool in one's toolbox to be used in addition to painkillers to reduce the level of pain even further."
Ultimately, Niemtzow says he'd like troops to learn acupuncture themselves, so they can treat each other while out on missions. For now, the Air Force program is limited to training physicians.
But he points out that in many ways, the military program may lead the way for the rest of American society.....
"The history of military medicine is rich in development and a lot of people say that if the military is using it, then it must be good for the civilian world."
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