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Complementary Corner

Battlefield Acupuncture

Renee Lehman

(6/2013) Next month is the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, and this has me thinking… No, not about the influx of visitors! I have been thinking about the oldest continuously practiced medical system in the world: the healing art of acupuncture that originated over 3,000 years ago in Asia, and what if acupuncture would have been used to treat soldiers during the Civil War. Well, it is documented that acupuncture was used prior to and during the civil war!

Our American interest in acupuncture had its beginnings prior to the American Civil War. In 1826, the Philadelphia physician and chemist, Franklin Bache, grandson of Benjamin Franklin, published a report on his experiments using acupuncture on prisoners at the Pennsylvania penitentiary in Philadelphia for successfully treating the painful conditions of rheumatism and neuralgia. Then acupuncture was briefly referenced in an American Civil War field surgeon's manual (Acupuncture Energetics: A Clinical Approach for Physicians by Joseph M. Helms, MD, 2007).

I don’t know if we’ll ever know exactly how acupuncture was used during the Civil War, but I bet it was nowhere near how it is being used for today’s modern military. Since 2009, the military has been using acupuncture for post-traumatic stress disorder and pain control. In 2010, I completed the Battlefield Acupuncture and Advanced Battlefield Acupuncture training by John Howard, LAc, and his mentor, Dr. Richard Niemtzow.

Battlefield Acupuncture is an acupuncture treatment developed by Dr. Richard C. Niemtzow, MD, PhD, MPH (Colonel (Ret.) USAF, MC, FS) in 2001 to achieve rapid pain relief. "The whole idea of the battlefield concept was trying to develop an acupuncture technique that would be generic for all pain and that would be very rapid in terms of its effectiveness," said Dr. Richard Niemtzow, (Military turns to acupuncture as alternative to prescription painkillers, by Jennifer Svan in Stars and Stripes, August 27, 2010).

Battlefield Acupuncture is a form of auricular (ear) acupuncture. Auricular acupuncture is a form of acupuncture that dates back to 500 B.C. in China. In the 1950s, French physician, Dr. Paul Nogier, classified and standardized its current use for pain control. Most of the auricular acupuncture research has been focused on the area of pain control, even though it is used to treat many conditions.

The name Battlefield Acupuncture was chosen by Dr. Niemtzow because of his 30 years in the military, and the assumption that this system could eventually be used on the military battlefield. After Dr. Niemtzow practiced medical acupuncture for five years, he discovered that when certain auricular acupuncture points were used together, many ailments could be successfully addressed. Particularly, many pain symptoms were alleviated very quickly. Dr. Niemtzow then travelled to France to learn about the French Auricular Semi-Permanent (ASP®) needles. He met with internationally known auriculotherapy author, Terry Oleson, Ph.D., and with the inventor of the PET scan, former University of California Irvine professor and physicist Zang-Hee Cho, Ph.D. Their discussions and research together led to the final version of the acupuncture protocol that would become known as Battlefield Acupuncture.

The most likely way that the Battlefield Acupuncture protocol decreases pain can be explained by the way that pain is modulated by the central nervous system, which includes the hypothalamus, thalamus, cingulate gyrus, and other cerebral cortex structures. Research studies conducted by Dr. Cho using fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), suggest that these brain structures are involved during the Battlefield Acupuncture protocol (Cho, et al, Neuro-Acupuncture, Los Angeles, USA; Q-puncture, Inc., 2001).

The ASP needles are very short needles (about 1mm in length) that are made of gold, titanium or stainless steel. The needles are applied to five points on the outer ear. Because the needles are so small, they allow for a better fit under combat helmets so soldiers can continue their missions with the needles inserted to relieve pain. They can remain in the ear acupuncture points for up to 3-4 days or longer. Pain levels are reduced for anywhere from minutes, hours, days, weeks, or months depending on the condition being treated. The Battlefield Acupuncture protocol can be administered repeatedly. I have had clients who have had healing and have longlasting pain-free periods of time. I have had clients who have had more complicated conditions, and have not had complete healing, and needed repeated treatments. These clients use the Battlefield Acupuncture treatment to decrease their need for pain medications.

Finally, the Battlefield Acupuncture protocol can be used for many pain related conditions:

  • Any type of pain
  • Acute joint sprains and muscle strains
  • Other musculoskeletal pains
  • Multiple sites of pain
  • Migraine headaches
  • Post operative pain (if done within the first 2 days)
  • Injuries when narcotics would be contraindicated

If you are more interested in seeing how the military has been using the Battlefield Acupuncture protocol, along with other acupuncture and complementary medicine practices such as meditation and yoga, watch the movie Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare. To watch the trailer for the movie involving an Army soldier that received Battlefield Acupuncture, go to

Renee Lehman is a licensed acupuncturist, physical therapist, and Reiki Master with over 20 years of health care experience. Her office is located at 249B York Street in Gettysburg, PA.  She can be reached at 717-752-5728.

Read other article on well being by Renee Lehman