Donald K. Liebell, DC, BCAO
477 Viking Drive Suite 170
Virginia Beach VA 23452
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The Liebell Clinic: Chronic Pain & Wellness Solutions
Natural & holistic, whole-person, wellness-based Healthcare - Drug-Free & Non-Surgical Pain Relief
U.S. Air Force Launches a Strike Against Pain With Revolutionary "Battlefield Acupuncture"
By Dr. Donald Liebell
Acupuncture has been around for thousands of years, yet new innovations
to the ancient healing art continue to be made. This is the case with
"Battlefield Acupuncture," which is playing an important role in the United
States Armed Forces. The remarkable pain-relieving technique developed
by Air Force Colonel (Ret), Dr. Richard Niemtzow, is a specific protocol of
acupuncture done only on the outer ear, using specialized, semi-permanent
needles. If you have severe pain that is not being controlled by conventional
medical means, you will appreciate this article.
Colonel Niemtzow initially introduced this method with the intention of eliminating wounded soldiers’ pain while on the battlefield. It was so successful that the Air Force began teaching it to physicians deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan in early 2009. Doctors at Andrews Air Force Base have found that this extraordinary procedure can relieve severe pain, lasting several days or more.
During the Vietnam War, there was some American exposure to acupuncture, but never an official government program to make use of the ancient healing art. Colonel Niemtzow is actually a traditionally trained radiation oncologist, researcher, forensic examiner and has served as a Chief Flight Surgeon in support of Operation Desert Shield/Storm. But around 1994, while stationed at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, he began studying acupuncture. In 1998 the Colonel was appointed as the United States Military’s first full-time acupuncturist. By 2002, Dr. Niemtzow became Consultant for Alternative and Complementary Medicine to the Air Force Surgeon General. He established the acupuncture clinic at Andrews Air Force Base.
I have been privileged to one of the few civilian doctors to be personally trained by Dr. Niemtzow. When I met the Colonel in February of 2010, I had been successfully practicing auricular therapy ear acupuncture for several years. I was thrilled how relatively easy it was for me to implement his Battlefield protocol immediately in my practice. I didn't need to acquire a new skill; it was like knowing how to cook, but being given a new "recipe."
Origins of Battlefield Acupuncture
The outer ear is called the auricle. Ear acupuncture is known worldwide as Auricular Therapy. Many news sources have incorrectly reported that it was a Chinese development. Actually it was developed in France in the 1950s by neurologist, Paul Nogier, M.D., who introduced it to the Chinese.
Colonel Niemtzow's Battlefield Acupuncture is a specific protocol based on Nogier's work. It is a specific sequence of treating up to five specific acupuncture points on each ear, using ear acupuncture needles developed by Nogier, called ASP. After each point in the sequence is treated, patients get up and walk around a little bit before the next one is done.
Colonel (Dr. ) Steven Burns, who works with Dr. Niemtzow at Andrews Air Force Base, reminds the public that "acupuncture may be performed using traditional needles. Or physicians can use electro-acupuncture or even laser acupuncture. It [Battlefield Acupuncture with ASP needles] is just one more tool to help them do their job better." (source: official U.S. Air Force website)
On January 30, 2009, FOXnews.com reported that Chief Warrant Officer James Brad Smith had excellent results with Battlefield Acupuncture. He had fallen over 20 feet from a Black Hawk helicopter in Baghdad in December of 2008. Smith broke five ribs, punctured a lung and shattered bones in his hand. He was treated by Dr. Niemtzow at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Officer Smith received acupuncture on several points on his ear, and his pain began to ease.
"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." It was reported that the throbbing pain in his leg didn't change with acupuncture treatment, but the pain levels in his arm and ribs were the lowest they've been since he was injured. He also said that he didn't feel groggy afterward, a side-effect he usually experiences from the low-level morphine he takes.
Natural Medicine in the Military
Dr. Niemtzow has said that it is quite remarkable for an institution as conservative as the U.S. Military to adopt this procedure. He also points out that like all medical procedures, it doesn’t always work. I am proud to have Battlefield Acupuncture as one of several “tools in my toolbox.”
I was recently honored with the invitation to join Dr. Niemtzow at Andrews Air Force base to experience Battlefield Acupuncture in a Military setting. Although there are no current plans to expand the program beyond the Andrews clinic, my office is just a few miles from Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach. Local Military personnel and dependents can conveniently receive treatment.
Dr. Niemtzow and I discussed how unfortunate it is that Tricare does not cover acupuncture and man other so-called "alternative" treatments. Nevertheless, he and I agreed that because it is an affordable treatment that can reduce severe pain for many days—often after everything else has failed; it is well worth it to pursue.
Battlefield Acupuncture is an amazing pain-relieving procedure. It’s so simple that it’s hard to believe. It is not a replacement for treating the cause of a condition, but it can bring sweet relief after all has failed.
Dr. Donald Liebell
"In the beginning, many people were skeptical, but after seeing it demonstrated
on patients and the benefits achieved -- especially in the area of pain -- the
majority of physicians embraced it and learned how to use it in their practices
as an adunctive therapy.
Colonel (Dr.) Richard Niemztow, M.D., PhD., M.P.H.(Air Force Print News 3/14/08)
“Pain management through three-phase auricular therapy is commonly very effective and occasionally is miraculous."
Dr. Nader Soliman, M.D., Anesthesiologist,
President of the American Academy of Medical Acupunture (2003-2005)
President, Alternative Medicine Seminars
The World’s Foremost Authority
on Auricular Medicine
"Auricular therapy can reduce the tension, stress, and p ain not fully relieved by other medical procedures”
Dr. Terry Oleson, PhD., Psychobiology,
- Pioneer on auricular diagnosis at the UCLA Pain Management Center
- Research Director at the American University of Complementary Medicine
"For chronic conditions, auricular therapy is better than [body] acupuncture…
The body heals pain through the brain
rather than by pharmacological methods
that only suppress the pain signal
(along with other vital functions).”
Darrell Stoddard, Board Certified Auricular Therapist, Founder, the Pain Research Institute, - Author, "Pain Free For Life"
"Auricolotherapy is a treatment diffusing in all over the World"
“In the last years modern clinical and basic research is confirming the efficacy of ear acupuncture mostly in the treatment of pain both acute and chronic, and of anxiety related disorders…
Dr. Luigi Gori, M.D., Dr. Fabio Firenzuoli, M.D. - Center of Natural Medicine, S. Giuseppe Hospital, Empoli, Italy.
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