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Battlefield acupuncture: How it can help with chronic pain


Battlefield acupuncture: How it can help with chronic pain

Physicians have another tool in their pain-relief toolbox, thanks to the U.S. Military Health System.
Developed to provide fast pain relief on the battlefield when the use of pain medications wasn’t advisable, battlefield acupuncture is being used in civilian life to treat chronic pain, including low back pain, headaches, arthritis, fibromyalgia and joint pain.
Dr. Olga Chrisman, an anesthesiologist and interventional pain management physician at Tidelands Health Pain Management Services at Murrells Inlet, offers battlefield acupuncture. She says the treatment is often used in conjunction with other pain-relieving therapies or, in some cases, as an alternative to opioids for pain relief.
“No one entirely knows how acupuncture works, but it’s believed to stimulate the nervous system to reduce the sensation of pain,” Dr. Chrisman says. “It seems to calm down the brain and tell it that it doesn’t need to be firing on all cylinders.”

Based on Eastern medicine

Battlefield acupuncture is based on traditional Chinese medicine. Auricular acupuncture, a technique using points in the ear, has been practiced for thousands of years.

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In 2001, retired U.S. Air Force Col. Dr. Richard C. Niemtzow developed battlefield acupuncture to give non-acupuncturist clinicians a way to quickly relieve pain. The practice was adopted by the Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the agencies have since trained thousands of clinicians to provide battlefield acupuncture for chronic pain relief.
Unlike traditional acupuncture, which typically uses dozens of needles placed at various points along the body, battlefield acupuncture uses up to five needles placed only on the surface of the ear.
Research has shown that 75 to 82 percent of people experience decreased pain immediately following treatment.

Simple, in-office procedure

The treatment is simple, quick and performed in a physician’s office.
Tiny, dart-like needles are inserted in a specific order at five locations along the outer ear. After each insertion, the patient moves around to assess pain level.
Needles are inserted until pain relief occurs or until all five needles are inserted. Some people require all the needles, while others may need only a few. The short, 2-millimeter single-use needles fall out on their own in a few days.

Short-term relief

Dr. Chrisman says the treatment doesn’t cure what’s causing the pain, and it generally won’t provide long-term relief.
“Some people may need to come back for treatment every few weeks. Others may have their pain go away entirely after one or two sessions,” she says.

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One of the benefits of battlefield acupuncture is decreased dependence on opioids for pain management, Dr. Chrisman says.
“When patients take a lot of opioids to manage pain, they may reach a point of hyperalgesia where the opioids are actually causing pain,” Dr. Chrisman says. “Battlefield acupuncture can be used to help reduce that reliance on opioids.”

Dr. Olga Chrisman is a fellowship-trained pain management physician who specializes in anesthesiology and interventional pain management. She provides care and treatment for a variety of pain conditions, including migraines, neck and lower back pain, herniated discs, injury and more. She offers a variety of treatment options, including steroid injections, acupuncture, various nerve blocks and more.

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