Introduction: The US Department of Defense has been training primary care providers in battlefield acupuncture, a subtype of auricular acupuncture, as an adjunct therapy for pain management.
Methods: The objective of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of battlefield acupuncture for pain management in an outpatient Internal Medicine clinic staffed by resident physicians. The target population for this single-center prospective cohort study were military beneficiaries at a medical treatment facility located at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Participants who met inclusion criteria were treated with battlefield acupuncture in addition to routine standard care for pain (n = 69). The control group was composed of participants who received routine standard care only without battlefield acupuncture (n = 27). Pain was assessed by a self-reported pain scale (0-10) at the time of encounter, immediately after battlefield acupuncture (for the intervention group), then at 24 and 48 h afterwards.
Results: Mean pain for the intervention group decreased from 5.45 before battlefield acupuncture to 3.29 immediately following battlefield acupuncture to 2.21 at 24 h and to 2.10 at 48 h (p < 0.001). Thus, at all three post-treatment time points, mean decrease in pain surpassed a two-point reduction, deemed to be a clinically important difference. The battlefield acupuncture group had a greater reduction in pain compared to the no intervention group at 24 h (3.14 vs 0.59, p < 0.001) and at 48 h (3.26 vs 0.96, p < 0.001). Four intervention group participants (6%) reported an adverse reaction (three with pain at the insertion site) or complication (one with superficial infection).
Conclusion: Battlefield acupuncture provided by Internal Medicine residents appears to be a safe and effective adjunct therapy for pain management in an outpatient setting, but requires further validation by randomized controlled trials.