According to research published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, “Injuries are the biggest health problem of the military services.”
The top outpatient injuries cited were sprains and strains, afflicting roughly 49 percent of all military personnel. Additionally, a number of injuries resulting in hospitalization were caused by falls or near falls, motor vehicle-related incidents, and sports.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) adds that, on average, veterans are more likely to endure severe pain conditions than individuals who have never served, with the percentages being 9.1 and 6.4 respectively. In fact, they rank higher in all pain categories across the board, whether the pain is felt in their back, neck, jaw, or other area.
Though not all of these injuries can be avoided during active duty, there are a few modalities that can assist with the prevention and treatment of injuries afflicting our nation’s military personnel at higher rates. One that some of the military branches and their members have turned to with more frequency is acupuncture.
Acupuncture: what it is and how it helps
The Mayo Clinic describes acupuncture as simply “the insertion of extremely thin needles through your skin at strategic points on your body.” However, this health agency goes on to explain that Chinese medicine has a more spiritual view of this traditional methodology, calling it “a technique for balancing the flow of energy or life force—known as qi or chi (CHEE)—believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body.”
The NCCIH indicates that there are many studies which have found that acupuncture can help with a variety of chronic pain issues. This includes pain associated with the lower back, knee pain, or pain in the head and neck area.
Furthermore, the reasoning behind acupuncture’s effectiveness still remains partially a mystery says the NCCIH, though it is believed that an individual’s belief in this particular methodology helps support its positive results. Results that can greatly benefit our nation’s military personnel.
Military use of acupuncture
“As a retired U.S. Air Force officer and Nationally Board Certified Acupuncturist, I see many veterans and active military personnel at my practice who enjoy the benefits of acupuncture,” says Constance Bradley, Ph.D., L.Ac., Captain, US Air Force (Retired) and owner of Scottsdale Integrative Acupuncture.
“Acupuncture is a wonderful modality for military personnel,” says Bradley, further explaining that it is especially beneficial to military personnel as they “often have back pain, shoulder pain, and neck pain due to their physically demanding job.” One of the reasons acupuncture is preferred, says Bradley, is because it “successfully treats pain without the use of drugs.”
This is critical as one 2014 study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal found that chronic pain and opioid use by military members who weren’t engaged in active treatment “were higher than estimates in the general civilian population.”
Specifically, 44 percent of the study participants reported having chronic pain, compared to 26 percent of the general population. Opioid use was higher as well, with 15.1 percent of military personnel using this category of drugs compared to 4 percent of the population at large.
Though opioid addiction has been a major issue in recent years, this treatment method appears to be more prevalent in military populations, making drugless treatment methods even more beneficial for this group of individuals. The U.S. Army reports that this is one major reason acupuncture has been introduced into their treatment regimens, lowering service members reliance on opioids a full two percentage points within a three year period.
The Digital Journal reports that other branches of military have found similar positive effects. “Moreover, acupuncture does not have any side effects or downtime thereby making it an ideal treatment for those in military service,” adds Bradley.
Acupuncture and PTSD
Acupuncture can also help service members with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, says Bradley. PTSD is a condition that is characterized by anxiety and stress that results in avoidance, arousal and reactivity, and cognition and mood symptoms according to the National Institute of Mental Health. “PTSD can be a consequence of experiencing combat or repeated exposure to dangerous situations,” explains Bradley.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 11-20 percent of military personnel who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD. That number is even higher for Gulf War veterans (12 percent) and those who served in the Vietnam War (15 percent).
Acupuncture helps with PTSD through lowering anxiety and stress levels, says Bradley, and research confirms it as one pilot study reported by the NCCIH found that individuals with this condition received benefits consistent with cognitive-behavioral therapy after undergoing just 12 weeks of care. Additionally, these positive effects were sustained for three months post-treatment.
Acupuncture appears to help our nation’s military service members on a number of different levels. They deserve at least that, and more.