Battlefield acupuncture providers combine innovation with tradition

  • Published
  • By Daniel J. Calderón
  • 59th Medical Wing Public Affairs
Since 2015, providers with the 59th Medical Wing at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland have offered battlefield acupuncture treatments to patients for pain management.

The general surgery clinic holds a session every second and fourth Wednesday of the month from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

“I have patients who use this treatment just to survive, just to have a normal life.” said Christina Frankland, nurse manager for the general surgery clinic. “I absolutely recommend it for anyone with chronic pain.”

Patients use acupuncture as a pain management treatment for a variety of ailments including fibromyalgia, cystic fibrosis, migraines, menstrual pain, knee pain, shoulder pain, and a variety of others.

Patients can receive a session on a walk-in basis without a referral. Providers come from several clinics within 59th MDW and see an average of 15-20 patients.

“There is a physical response from the body when we’re doing this,” Frankland said. “I’ve had people start sweating, and others go ‘whoa’ because they’re so surprised by the relief.”

Unlike the more common notion of acupuncture during which needles are placed at points on a patient’s back or other parts of the body, battlefield acupuncture focuses on a patient’s ears. The ears, according to Frankland, are focus points for different areas of the body’s pain centers.

During each session, providers place one to five pins, depending on the patient’s pain areas, into specific points on each of the patient’s ears. The pins are less than one quarter the size of an average push pin.

“I’ve been getting the treatments for about a year for knee and back pain management,” said Staff Sgt. Troy Ferrell, non-commissioned officer in charge of the urology clinic. “The very first time it was for soreness from the gym. I could almost instantly feel the tension and tightness leave from my back.”

Richard C. Niemtzow, known as the “father of battlefield acupuncture,” began developing the procedure in 2001. Frankland said the technique was so effective for troops, they began requesting sessions when they returned from overseas deployments and shortly thereafter became a pain management option for dependents as well.

Providers have to be precise as the specific area for a pin to be inserted is about the size of an eraser head. The pins fall out on their own after two to seven days. Battlefield acupuncture, at its most basic, is another method for helping patients deal with their chronic pain.

“If you have tried other methods and medications, this is a great alternative,” Ferrell said. “You don’t have anything to lose except your pain.”