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Air Force Physicians Being Trained in Acupuncture

Posted: January 30, 2009

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Niemtzow is chief of the acupuncture clinic at Andrews Air Force Base. He's leading the new program after training many of about 50 active duty military physicians who practice acupuncture.

The U.S. military encountered acupuncture during the Vietnam War, when an Army surgeon wrote in a 1967 edition of Military Medicine magazine about local physicians who were allowed to practice at a U.S. Army surgical hospital and administered acupuncture to Vietnamese patients.

Niemtzow started offering acupuncture in 1995 at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. Several years later, he became the first full-time military medical acupuncturist for the Navy, which also provides health care for the Marines. Later, he established the acupuncture clinic at the Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Andrews, and he continued to expand acupuncture by treating patients at Walter Reed and other Air Force bases in the country and in Germany. Niemtzow and his colleague Col. Stephen Burns administer about a dozen forms of acupuncture—including one type that uses lasers—to soldiers and their families every week.

Col. Arnyce Pock, medical director for the Air Force Medical Corps, said acupuncture comes without the side effects that are common after taking traditional painkillers. Acupuncture also quickly treats pain. "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," Pock said. "When they're on narcotics, you can't do that because they're feeling the effects of the drugs."

Niemtzow cautions that while acupuncture can be effective, it's not a cure-all. "In some instances it doesn't work," he said. "But it can be another tool in one's toolbox to be used in addition to painkillers to reduce the level of pain even further."