Battlefield Acupuncture (BFA) – I presume the name comes from the fact that it is so simple, it could even be used under combat situations – is a form of ear acupuncture developed 20 years ago by Dr Richard Niemtzow. BFA employs gold semipermanent needles that are placed at up to 5 specific sites in one or both ears.  The BFA needles are small conical darts that pierce the outer ear in designated locations and remain in place until they fall out typically within 3–4 days.

The US Defense and Veterans Center for Integrative Pain Management and the Veterans Health Administration National Pain Management Program Office recently completed a 3-year acupuncture education and training program, which deployed certified BFA trainers for the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration medical centers. Over 2800 practitioners were thus trained to provide BFA. The total costs amounted to $ 5.4 million.

This clearly begs the question:


 This review aims to investigate the effects and safety of BFA in adults with pain. Electronic databases were searched for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) published in English evaluating efficacy and safety of BFA in adults with pain, from database inception to September 6, 2019. The primary outcome was pain intensity change, and the secondary outcome was safety. Nine RCTs were included in this review, and five trials involving 344 participants were analyzed quantitatively. Compared with no intervention, usual care, sham BFA, and delayed BFA interventions, BFA had no significant improvement in the pain intensity felt by adults suffering from pain. Few adverse effects (AEs) were reported with BFA therapy, but they were mild and transitory.

The authors of this review concluded that BFA is a safe, rapid, and easily learned acupuncture technique, mainly used in acute pain management, but no significant efficacy was found in adult individuals with pain, compared with the control groups. Given the poor methodological quality of the included studies, high-quality RCTs with rigorous evaluation methods are needed in the future.

And here are my comments:

  • SAFE? Impossible to tell on the basis of 344 patients.
  • RAPID? True, but meaningless, as it does not work.
  • EASILY LEARNT? True, it’s simple and seems ever so stupid.
  • NO SIGNIFICANT EFFICACY? That I can easily believe.

I am amazed that anyone would fall for an idea as naive as BFA. That it should be the US military is simply hilarious, in my view. I am furthermore baffled that anyone recommends more study of such monumental nonsense.

Why, oh why?

Acupuncture is far-fetched (to put it mildly). Ear acupuncture is positively ridiculous. BFA seems beyond ridiculous and must be the biggest military hoax since general Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin painted façades to fool Catherine the Great into thinking that an area was far richer than it truly was.


8 Responses to Battlefield acupuncture: “no significant efficacy”

  • I am not surprised that the US military fell for this. After all, they had men who stared at goats.

  • Somehow telling a possibly armed seriously injured soldier that their pain treatment will be a couple of needles in the ear may not be all that advisable.

    As Les Rose points out it can be amazingly easy to sell crazy things (systems, instruments, training, etc. ) to organizations. There are some rear horror stories in the police field.

    • it can be amazingly easy to sell crazy things (systems, instruments, training, etc. ) to organizations

      Wasn’t there some kind of bomb-detection device that was sold to the Israeli army about ten years ago that was essentially a black box with no functioning parts supposedly working on the principles of dousing?

      • Yup, the ADE-651, containing nothing more sophisticated than a generic anti-theft tag. And yes, it was basically a dowsing rod with a swivelling antenna – and a $ 40,000 price tag, that is.

      • “The ADE 651 is a fake bomb detector[1] produced by the British company Advanced Tactical Security & Communications Ltd (ATSC). Its manufacturer claimed it could detect bombs, guns, ammunition, and more from kilometers away. However, it was a scam, and the device was little more than a dowsing rod. The device was sold for up to US$60,000 each, despite costing almost nothing to produce. It was widely used in the Middle East, and may have led to numerous deadly bombings in Iraq due to its inability to detect explosives. Its inventor, James McCormick, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2013 for fraud.”

  • Somehow, ‘battlefield acupuncture’ calls up images of people going at each other with pikes and bayonets and suchlike. Reasonably effective in a way, but not for healing purposes …

  • $5.4 million is petty cash when it comes to defense budgets.

    • That’s why I’m trying to sell battlefield voodoo kits: for each soldier, there’s a set of needles (which can double as acupuncture needles) and a dolly. When the enemy approaches, they whip out their dolls and stab the enemy’s effigy with one or more needles.

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