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Battlefield acupuncture allows quicker recovery time

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Capt. Heather Mundy, medical director for the 21st Medical Operations Squadron, inserts an auricular acupuncture needle into a patient’s ear at the Peterson Medical Clinic, Nov. 9, 2015. Auricular acupuncture, also known as battlefield acupuncture, was developed by a retired Air Force colonel in Virginia as a quick treatment to acute and chronic pain, which is beneficial in the field. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rose Gudex)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Capt. Heather Mundy, medical director for the 21st Medical Operations Squadron, inserts an auricular acupuncture needle into a patient’s ear at the Peterson Medical Clinic, Nov. 9, 2015. Auricular acupuncture, also known as battlefield acupuncture, was developed by a retired Air Force colonel in Maryland as a quick treatment to acute and chronic pain, which is beneficial in the field. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rose Gudex)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Peterson Air Force Base medical providers are able to provide auricular acupuncture for patients experiencing acute or chronic pain. The treatment, also called battlefield acupuncture, uses needles that appear as gold studs in the ear and come out between three to seven days as the skin grows out. These are approved for military members as they are medical devices and not for decoration. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rose Gudex)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Peterson Air Force Base medical providers are able to provide auricular acupuncture for patients experiencing acute or chronic pain. The treatment, also called battlefield acupuncture, uses needles that appear as gold studs in the ear and come out between three to seven days as the skin grows out. These are approved for military members as they are medical devices and not for decoration. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rose Gudex)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. - Peterson Air Force Base medical providers are able to provide auricular acupuncture for patients experiencing acute or chronic pain. The treatment, also called battlefield acupuncture, uses needles in specific areas of the ear that correlate with brain structures that deal with pain. Different areas of the ear directly correlate with different parts of the body. (Courtesy photo)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. - Peterson Air Force Base medical providers are able to provide auricular acupuncture for patients experiencing acute or chronic pain. The treatment, also called battlefield acupuncture, uses needles in specific areas of the ear that correlate with brain structures that deal with pain. Different areas of the ear directly correlate with different parts of the body. (Courtesy photo)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The Air Force has always been innovative when creating new and better ways to accomplish the mission, and another new way they are paving the way is with an increasingly popular medical treatment known as "battlefield acupuncture," a form of auricular acupuncture.

Acupuncture is one method of relieving pain, originally practiced by the Chinese, using needles inserted through the skin at specific points. Auricular acupuncture is a specific form of acupuncture that involves temporary needles placed at specific points in the ear for a variety of treatments.

Capt. Heather Mundy, medical director for the Peterson Family Health Clinic, said battlefield acupuncture was developed by a retired Air Force physician, Richard Niemtzow, at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. It is a five point treatment, on both ears, with areas that correlates to the brain structure having to do with pain.

"Over the years they've done a lot of studies using functional MRIs that correlate specific areas within the ear with areas in the body," she said. "There's an area that correlates to the lower extremities, the upper extremities, the face. There's a whole body lay out on the ear."

The process takes just a couple minutes and is performed by placing needles into the ear, which releases small, almost microscopic, barbs into the ear, Mundy said. The temporary needles appear as golden studs scattered throughout one or both ears, remaining for three to seven days to allow for continued treatment. The studs fall out on their own. These studs are considered a medical device, similar to sutures or staples, and meet military standards for dress and appearance.

Battlefield acupuncture's quick and easy pain relief make it an ideal choice while deployed, Mundy said. If a service member develops acute or chronic pain, simply inserting a few needles into the ear allows them to return to duty faster without impairing their ability to complete the mission.

In addition to the quick results, Mundy said battlefield acupuncture can reduce dependence on addicting pain relievers.

Battlefield acupuncture is typically used for treating pain, however there are thousands of points on the ear that can be used for other treatments (such as allergies, insomnia, gastrointestinal problems and PTSD), Mundy said.

While the technique is gaining popularity, Mundy said it is still only offered on a limited case-by-case basis due to the extensive training required. Individuals interested in this new therapy should contact their primary care manager to determine if it would be helpful for their condition(s). If so, a consult will be placed for a military acupuncture provider. Acupuncture is not a TRICARE-covered benefit, so patients cannot be referred downtown for this care.

For more information, contact the family health clinic at 719-556-1306.