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MDG now offers battlefield acupuncture for pain relief

U.S. Air Force Maj. (Dr.) Jennifer Salguero 377th Medical Group, family practice clinic medical director, performs combat acupuncture on Jim Fisher, 377th Air Base Wing public affairs specialist, at the 377th Medical Group building in Albuquerque, N.M., Feb. 7. Whereas traditional acupuncture involves needles placed within 12 zones all throughout the body, Battlefield Acupuncture is a form of auricular acupuncture in which needles are placed only on the surface of the ear. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. J.D. Strong II)

Story by James Fisher

377th Air Base Wing/Public Affairs

Maj. (Dr.) Jennifer Salguero is everything you would want in a primary care manager. Courteous, competent, kind, and attentive–a good listener. As the medical director at the 377th Medical Group’s Family Practice clinic, I knew she was a talented provider by reputation as well as by title.

Still, as I listened to her talk about a possible treatment for pain radiating from my knees, right heel and left elbow – Battlefield Acupuncture – and I was a bit skeptical. Maybe even scared. I was about to experience something I had never been through, and probably not by accident.

Acupuncture was one of those things I considered exotic, dangerous and hopefully never necessary. I feel the same way about walking on hot coals, or eating just the right amount of blowfish. What was I getting into? But a bigger question caused me to agree and undertake the treatment: could this really help? I decided it was worth trying.

In addition to my pain, I had to consider the recent mainstreaming of the treatment at our Med Group and the proliferation encouraged from the Air Force Surgeon General Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Mark A. Ediger. Ediger himself is a trained, certified Battlefield Acupuncturist. Locally, Salguero has now trained 18 providers across Family Medicine, Flight Medicine, Mental Health, Physical Therapy and even the 351st Battlefield Airmen Training Squadron.

Kirtland providers have been administering the treatment to the satisfaction and relief of patients since September, according to Salguero, who explained what was about to happen to me.

“Battlefield Acupuncture is a series of five small semi-permanent needles in each ear in a very specific formula for every single patient in a very specific order,” she said. I declined her offer to see just how “tiny” the needles were, but my wingman Staff Sgt. J.D. Strong II, who photographed the procedure, agreed.

“They’re tiny,” he said.

As I provided written and verbal consent, the doctor explained that Battlefield Acupuncture was developed by Air Force Dr. Richard Niemtzow in 2001. While studying and practicing traditional acupuncture, Niemtzow learned that a prescribed series of needles inserted in the surface of the ear could provide pain relief for many types of pain.

“Dr. Niemtzow identified strategic points that helped decrease pain in most people,” Salguero said. “We find that it works in eight out of 10 people. It works for chronic and acute pain and we find that it decreases pain scores quite a bit. We’ll start by inserting one small gold, hypoallergenic needle in here this ear and then we’ll check your pain…”

She inserted the first needle, smaller by magnitudes that a thumb tack with a cap on one end to keep it in place. I felt nothing but a small pinch and a snap. The pain was so slight that I couldn’t tell exactly when insertion began or was complete. Salguero stepped back and asked me how I felt.

It was hard to describe, but as soon the needle was in place, a very fine, low frequency tingling went down my right shoulder. We got up, walked up and down the hall, and she asked me to reassess my pain levels. My right knee dropped from 4-2, and my right heel from 3-1. This process was repeated nine more times, and each time pain in various joints was slightly reduced. I no longer tensed in anticipation of the needles – there wasn’t enough pain to absorb, and the relief was tangible with each insertion–more gain than pain.

I left the clinic with much less pain. The needles remained in and effective into the next afternoon. As someone who’s dealt with pain for months now, it was a welcome relief. According to Salguero, anyone eligible for treatment at the 377th Medical Group who is at least 18 years old and not pregnant is also eligible for Battlefield Acupuncture. I definitely recommend it.

For more information and to schedule the treatment, people should contact their primary care managers via the 377th Medical Group at 846-3200, or discuss the treatment during their next scheduled appointment. People can also visit Tricare Online to schedule an appointment.

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