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News > Acupuncture – the Wave of the Future is a Blast from the Past
Acupuncture – the Wave of the Future is a Blast from the Past

Posted 9/10/2010   Updated 9/10/2010 Email story   Print story


by Maj. (Dr.) Jason Musser
65th Medical Group

9/10/2010 - LAJES FIELD, Azores -- In January 2010, Lajes Field added another capability in the medical treatment of its beneficiaries, that of acupuncture. This age-old type of medicine began in China over 3,000 years ago. It made its way to Germany and France before catching on in America. Now, it has come to the 65th Air Base Wing.

The Air Force and Navy have spent considerable resources training a cadre of military physicians in its use. Over 30 physicians in the Air Force alone have added acupuncture to their skill set. Each student spends over 300 hours studying at home and in three one-week TDY's learning and practicing acupuncture to become proficient in a wide variety of techniques.

Acupuncture includes techniques to the scalp, ear, and body. A variety of different sizes of needles are used, some as small as human hair. The needles used may be hooked to electrical stimulators or heated to help increase their effectiveness. Most needles are left in only for the duration of the treatment visit, about 15 to 20 minutes. Scalp needles may be left in for several hours before being removed by the patient themselves. Others, such as semi-permanent (ASP) needles for the ears, are allowed to fall out on their own, usually in 5 to 7 days. By now, you've probably seen a variety of people walking around with gold ASP needles in their ears.

The problems treated by acupuncture are almost endless. Many people seek acupuncture for help with chronic pain or fatigue. Some seek it for help with chronic illnesses when medication is not desired. Still others seek its help with insomnia, quitting smoking, and weight loss. The Navy has special interest in the treatment of Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by acupuncture, and the acupuncture course sponsored by the Navy includes increase emphasis in the treatment of TBI and PTSD.

There are many questions that patients have prior to their first acupuncture treatment: Will it hurt? How long is the treatment? How long will it last? How will I feel afterwards?
Pain related to acupuncture is very minimal, with most patients noting only some pressure for a moment when the needle is inserted. Other factors such as the problem being treated, the area being needled, and the type of needle is being used, can affect the discomfort during the needling process. For example, the gold stud needles used on the ears can be more uncomfortable than smaller needles but provide longer lasting effects, especially in the control of pain. After the needle is inserted, most people forget that they are even there.

Most treatments last about 15 minutes and patients generally need to have repeat treatments every week or two until the problem is under control. The duration of control depends upon the problem but, in general, the more acupuncture done, the longer the effects last. Many people find lasting results from just one or two treatments while others, such as those quitting tobacco or losing weight, need six to eight weeks of treatment for optimal results.

Afterwards, the majority of patients feel a profound state of calmness and some note feeling slightly 'detached'. This is a normal reaction from the body's release of various chemicals and hormones during the acupuncture process and usually passes quickly. Patients are monitored prior to being released to ensure they are feeling okay prior to going home or back to work.

Occasionally, a patient will have a reaction to the needling process itself. Though rare, some patients will become lightheaded, dizzy, and may actually pass out, a condition called 'needle shock' in acupuncture terms. It's similar to the reaction some people have to shots or getting blood drawn. Patients are monitored closely during the needling, if they exhibit any symptoms of needle shock, the needles are immediately removed, the feet are elevated, and the patient is monitored until they are feeling better. While most people tolerate the needling well, persons who are very athletic or in the military tend to be at a higher risk for such a reaction. As such, most people here at Lajes receive acupuncture while lying down.

Overall, acupuncture is a very safe procedure with a total of only ten significant adverse affects reported over a 30 year period in the entire U.S. It offers our patients and their families other choices of how to deal with their acute and chronic problems in ways that don't have to include medications. While not a 'cure-all', it's a good option available to all eligible beneficiaries at Lajes Field. If you think you could benefit from acupuncture, please contact your primary care provider.

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