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U.S. Naval battalion becomes first to use battlefield acupuncture

By Jake Thomas
Cmdr. Andrew Olsen, left, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5’s commanding officer, receives battlefield auricular acupuncture therapy from Lt. Jeffrey Moy, NMCB-5’s medical officer, onboard Camp Shields, Okinawa, Japan. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Stephane Belcher/U.S. Navy
Cmdr. Andrew Olsen, left, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5’s commanding officer, receives battlefield auricular acupuncture therapy from Lt. Jeffrey Moy, NMCB-5’s medical officer, onboard Camp Shields, Okinawa, Japan. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Stephane Belcher/U.S. Navy

Aug. 25 (UPI) -- A form of acupuncture developed for military settings is now available for the first time to members of a deployable command in the U.S. Navy, the branch said on Wednesday.

Members of the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5, known as "Navy Seabees," can receive "battlefield auricular acupuncture treatments" for pain and other ailments, according to a Navy press release.

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Unlike regular treatments, which involve long needles left in patients for 20 minutes, "battlefield auricular acupuncture" involves inserting small gold needles into servicemember's ears.

The treatment focuses on the ear because servicemember's bodies are often covered by uniforms, protective gear and packs.

The smaller needles are left in for three to 14 days and can treat pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, nausea and addictions, including tobacco cessation.

The treatment doesn't sideline servicemembers, unlike some medications for pain, PTSD, anxiety, depression and substance abuse, according to the Navy.

"The really interesting thing is, when we all learned how to do this, we practiced on each other," Lt. Jeffrey Moy, the battalion's medical officer, said in the release.

"Some people felt things happen very, very quickly. They didn't have to take medicine and wait 30 minutes for a potential medication to work. You almost get a very, very quick, very sudden release of adrenaline, almost," Moy said.

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Moy said that the treatment will be used in limited circumstances. For instance, it wouldn't be used if it was unclear why a service member was in pain to prevent masking symptoms.

However, in a circumstance where a servicemember sprained a knee or twisted an ankle, acupuncture would be used to ease pain while treating the injury, he said.

Battlefield auricular acupuncture was developed in 2001 by Dr. Richard Niemtzow, who found that inserting a small needle in a patient's ear disrupted their brain's pain process, according to the Military Times.

But there has been a lack of physicians trained in the technique.

A 2018 paper published in Medical Acupuncture found growing interest in acupuncture in the military healthcare system.

The paper found that acupuncture was commonly used for pain management and an alternative to opioids, but also cited a lack of data on specific uses of the treatment.

Despite the uncertainty, the U.S. military's health care system has steadily embraced acupuncture. In January 2020, the Defense Health Agency issued guidelines and regulations on the use of the treatment.

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