Battlefield Relief: Acupuncture

The U.S. Army has tapped into acupuncture therapy to help its soldiers thwart potential opioid abuse.

One of the most popular forms has been called “battlefield acupuncture, ” according to Dr. Richard Niemtzow, who developed the program in 2001, according to

An important component of acupuncture is that treatment can help reduce pain quickly without the risk of addiction that can happen with opioids.  The acupuncture approach used in the military involves ear acupuncture, or auricular, and Army officials said that has been effective in reducing pain.

Battlefield Acupuncture, also known as BFA, is effective because it can allow soldiers to easily continue their work without waiting for medications to kick-in, officials have said.  “The BFA, which involves a small needle inserted into the ear, has a “central effect” on the nervous system and the cingulate gyrus, an area of the brain that processes pain,” according to an Army report.“The up-to-10 needles, five per ear, used are only 1 millimeter in length and are either gold-plated or made of steel,” said the Army, reporting on its troops in Afghanistan early last year. “Minimal pain is experienced when they are placed in the outer ear. Eventually they fall out after three to seven days on average.”

Acupuncture and other forms of alternative and complementary medicine are helping to cut the use of opioids in Army patients. Opioid use is a major healthcare issue inside and outside the military because of the potential for abuse. Early last year, the Army Times reported that about “22 percent of active-duty soldiers had at least one opioid prescription at any given time as of the end of fiscal 2016.” The paper said it was 19 percent drop over a four year period.

Changing culture

The Army has changed its culture on the use of medication since 2010. The Pain Management Task Force issued recommendations and the Veterans Health Administration examined best practices for pain management at its medical centers.  In fact, the Army’s use of acupuncture and other alternative procedures has been included in its Comprehensive Pain Management Plan.

Impacting veterans

Veterans, too, have had more access to acupuncture. Acupuncturists certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine can treat veterans for pain and opioid addiction as of last year, according to the organization.

That is important because “the opioid epidemic has significantly affected many of our veterans,” said Dr. Kory Ward-Cook, NCCAOM Chief Executive Officer in a statement. “A report by the American Public Health Association in 2011 found that the fatal overdose rate among VA patients is nearly double the national average. This new government occupational standard will enable the most experienced and qualified acupuncturists to treat the thousands of veterans who are suffering from debilitating pain and addiction to overprescribed opioids at the many Veterans hospitals and medical centers.”

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) said that veterans are more likely to endure severe pain conditions than individuals who have never served, according to Chiropractic Economics. 

It cited a 2014 study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal found that chronic pain and opioid use by military members not being treated “were higher than estimates in the general civilian population.”

About 44 percent of the study participants reported having chronic pain, compared to 26 percent of the general population. Opioid use was higher as well, with 15.1 percent of military personnel using this category of drugs compared to 4 percent of the population at large, it said. — Joe Cantlupe, HealthDataBuzz. Most of the contents in this story was written for


Nicole Bauke. Battlefield acupuncture? Yes, it exists and the military is using it to fight troops’pain. 2018. MilitaryTimes. Retrieved from:

Jon Michael Connor. Battlefield Acupuncture’s proven pain reduction treatment becoming popular with caregivers, patients. U.S. Army. 2019. Retrieved from:

Christina DeBusk. Why the use of acupuncture in the military is on the rise. Chiropractic Economics. 2018. Retrieved from:

National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Acupuncturists Now Included in the Veterans Health Administration. 2018. Press Release. Retrieved from:

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