OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. — In 2015, Offutt’s Ehrling Bergquist Clinic began using Battle Field Acupuncture as an alternative pain management technique. The popularity of this treatment has continued to grow at Offutt, which now has 25 trained physician acupuncturists on staff.
“We use it to treat pain for just about any source,” said Dr. (Lt. Col.) Dillon Savard, 55th Medical Operations Squadron director of medical education. “It’s a fast treatment that’s effective for a lot of people.”
BFA is a form of auricular acupuncture therapy, which uses tiny needles placed in up to five very specific parts of each ear.
“We’ll place a needle into the first point and then have them take a short walk,” Savard said. “Then we’ll have them tell us if there’s no change in their pain, or if it’s better or worse. We then add the next point and reassess. The entire treatment could include up to five needles in each ear.”
Savard said BFA targets five points of the ear that are known to affect pain in emotion sensors, but that it’s unclear how it actually works.
BFA was first established in the Air Force in 2001 by Dr. (retired Col.) Richard Niemtzow as a treatment for pain relief. It is a simple procedure that can be applied in the most austere environments. Today, it is being taught and used by Air Force physicians worldwide.
Dr. (Capt.) Carl Bryce, a family medicine residency faculty member from the 55th MDOS, is one of three acupuncturists at Offutt certified to teach BFA to Air Force physicians. He is currently deployed to Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan where he will train the technique to other medics.
While scientific investigation of its effectiveness is inconclusive, many people say it indeed works.
“I go in pretty much on a monthly basis,” said retired Senior Master Sgt. Timothy Frederick, who has experienced chronic pain for more than 10 years. “I’ll have shoulder pain around a five, and he starts the procedure, and [the pain] just kind of walks away. I don’t take any narcotics – if I need something for pain, I just take an Alieve and that takes care of it.”
Senior Airman Katrina Santiago, an aerospace medical technician from the 55th MDOS, also receives BFA for her back pain.
“It doesn’t really hurt at all,” Santiago said. “It was very easy.”
Savard estimates that hundreds of patients have used the treatment at Offutt since it was first offered in 2015.
Frederick, who began receiving acupuncture at the clinic a year ago, said acupuncture has dramatically decreased his pain and improved his quality of life. He said he will continue to use acupuncture for the foreseeable future.
“I’m living proof that it works,” Frederick said.
In addition to BFA, the clinic also provides other forms of acupuncture. Anyone eligible for care at the EBC can be referred by their primary care manager, but appointments are limited and the service is not covered by TRICARE.