Battlefield Acupuncture

 U.S. Air Force Launches
a Strike Again
st Pain

With Revolutionary New
"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 U.S. Military.  The remarkable pain-relieving technique developed by Air Force Colonel, Dr. Richard Niemtzow, is a specific protocol of acupuncture done only on the outer ear.  If you have pain that is not being controlled by traditional 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 N

ew 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 person
ally trained by Dr. Niemtzow.  When I met the Colonel in February of 2010, I had been successfully practicing ear acupuncture for several ye
ars.  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 of Nogier's Auricular Therapy.  
It is a specific sequence of treating five specific acupuncture points on each ear.  After each point in the sequence is treated, patients get up and walk around a little bit before the next one is done.  Details about Auricular Therapy can be found in another article on this website.

    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 is just one more tool to help them do their job better." (source: official U.S. Air Force website)    
     Here are some wonderful comments about Battlefield Acupuncture from various military personnel, both doctors and patients:

"It allows a provider like me to confidently complete a treatment and expect a good result within minutes... Other advantages are virtually no significant complications, patients are subjected to little or no discomfort, and immediate results that can be "quite spectacular sometimes." 

   - Major (Dr.) Conner Nguyen

     "The doctors who saw it in action and heard about it have been very excited about the opportunity to add acupuncture as an adjunctive therapy to what we already have been able to accomplish with western medicine,"

- Colonel (Dr.) Stephen Princiotta, Deputy Commander for Clinical Services, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center 

      "I love it… It can be life-changing when the patient responds immediately and looks at you like you're a magician… I’m always happy to see a patient break into a smile who was in misery only minutes before"

   - Major (Dr.) Teri Simpson, anesthesiologist

     "While I'm just standing here I feel a lot better," he said. In addition, the young Soldier edged the closest he'd been to touching his toes in six months due to back pain.

- Bradley Phillips, Army Specialist, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Hood

      "It was amazing [she said of her initial acupuncture treatment that provided total relief from her headache]... I couldn't believe it the first time it happened. I could almost function like a normal person again." 

- Senior Airman Jillian Sandbothe, 52nd Component Maintenance Squadron at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany

      "They put the needles in one point on each side of the ear and the [shoulder] pain was immediately gone... I can't believe in less than 10 minutes my pain is gone!"

- Lt. Colonel (Dr.) Wilbur Peralta, 779 MDOS

Fewer Narcotic Drugs… Fewer Side Effects

     "It allows troops to reduce the number of narcotics they take for pain, and have a better assessment of any underlying brain injury they may have... When they're on narcotics, you can't do that because they're feeling the effects of the drugs." 

- Colonel Arnyce Pock, Medical Director for the Air Force Medical Corps 

      On January 30, 2009, 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.  I provide a significant Military discount for Battlefield


     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.

         Ask Me Questions

Although I receive lots of questions daily, I do respond to all of them (in the order received), usually within 48 hours.  Please understand that my answers are for general information only.  I cannot provide specific medical advice via email; that can only be provided through proper evaluation in my office.  For appointments, please call my office.  

   Your email address or other information is confidential; I wll never share it with anyone, nor will it be used for any form of solicitation.   I look forward to your questions! 

                                                     - Dr. Donald Liebell

Dr. Donald Liebell
D.C., B.C.A.O, B.A.

477 Viking Drive Suite 170
Virginia Beach, VA 23452
(757) 631-9799


"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 thr
ee-phase auricular therapy is commonly very effective and occasionally is miraculous."

Dr. Nader Soliman, M.D.,
President of the American Academy of Medical Acupunture (2003-2005)
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., 
- 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.
– “Ear Acupuncture in European Traditional Medicine"
 - Center of Natural Medicine, S. Giuseppe Hospital, Empoli, Italy.

Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine
(Vol. 9, No. 3, 1994)

“At the Center [for Improvement for Human Functioning, Wichita, Kansas], auricular therapy is used as a diagnostic and therapeutic option. 
It is relatively painless, inexpensive, easy to use in experienced hands and may give immediate results.  We recommend its use.

Dr. James Jackson, PhD, MT,
- Professor and Assistant Dean, Wichita State University Graduate School

"There is increasing evidence that ear acupuncture can be helpful in the treatment of migraine”

Marco Romoli, M.D. 
- "Ear acupuncture in the control of migraine pain: selecting the right
acupoints by the “needle-contact test”
From: Neurological sciences: official journal of the Italian Neurological Society and of the Italian Society of Clinical Neurophysiology

Auriculotherapy is a sophisticated discipline of acu- puncture that can be studied to a refined level of precision”

 “Used in an integrated medical model, acupuncture is well suited to deal with many of the functional problems that allopathic medicine is not equipped to address. The result is patient and physician satisfaction."

Dr. Farshad Ahadian, M.D.
- Medical Director, the Center for Pain Medicine at University of California, San Diego