In Chinese medicine, the ear is a microsystem of the body. This means that the body and its functions are represented at different points in the ear. By needling the ear, acupuncturists can affect the whole body and help in the treatment of many conditions, illnesses, and pain.
In 2001, Dr. Richard Niemtzow, while on active duty in the US Air Force, developed the Battlefield Acupuncture (BFA) technique to deliver quick and effective pain relief in the military. It was so successful that since then, this practice has been adopted by the Department of Defense and the US Department of Veterans Affairs to provide chronic pain relief.
What is BFA?
BFA is a form of acupuncture that uses tiny needles (1 millimeter in length) placed in 5 specific areas of both ears to quickly and efficiently reduce or eliminate pain. The needles are semi-permanent, which means they are left in their place for about 3 to 4 days and then removed.
What is BFA used for?
BFA has been used successfully to treat many types of pain, including fibromyalgia, complex regional pain syndrome, headaches, and arthritis.
Does it hurt?
When the needles are placed, there can be minor discomfort, but it lasts only a short period of time. Most patients even forget they have needles in their ears. If the needles become uncomfortable in your daily activities, you can easily remove them at any time with fingernails or tweezers.
What to expect during and after the treatment?
The acupuncturist will place up to 5 needles in each ear, and you will be asked to move around after the placement of each needle.
The needles will stay in the ear for 3-5 days. After that, you can either return to your provider for removal or do it yourself at home. Sometimes some of the needles will fall out on their own.
With the needle placement, most people have immediate pain relief that can last anywhere from 2 weeks to several months. For some, the relief can be brief and subsequent treatments can often extend the periods of pain reduction or elimination. It is hard to know who will respond or not to the treatment, but research has shown that 75 to 82% of people experience less pain immediately after the treatment.
What are the dos and don’ts after the treatment?
- Avoid heavy exercise, housework, or yard work on the day of the treatment.
- Do not drink alcohol or have sex for at least six hours after the treatment.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet all-day.
- You can take a bath or shower but clean your ears carefully and only pat dry the area to avoid pulling out the needles.
- Take notes on changes in your pain, sleep, and energy, and report them to your acupuncturist.
Who should not get BFA?
BFA should not be used in the following:
Patients who have fainted with needles in the past
Serious bleeding disorders
Are there any side effects?
Even though BFA is a very safe technique, it can occasionally cause lightheadedness, euphoria, discomfort or pain at the needle site, mild bleeding, infection, nausea, fainting, and drowsiness.
If there is redness, swelling, warmth, or increased pain at the needle site, remove the needle immediately and report to your acupuncturist or primary care physician to rule out an infection.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.