“I have no pain.”
With those words, Air Force Veteran Nadine Stanford became the first Community Living Center resident at VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System to complete a battlefield acupuncture (BFA) treatment.
Not more than 15 minutes before treatment, Stanford told VA Pittsburgh acupuncturist Amanda Federovich that the pain in her buttocks was a ten on the zero-to-10 pain scale. Ten reflects the worst pain Stanford could imagine.
Stanford had previously tried narcotic painkillers, analgesics, benzodiazepines, kinesthesia and music therapy. Nothing really worked for her pain until Federovich gently inserted five tiny needles into each of Stanford’s ears.
Five points on the ear correspond to specific areas of the body, explained Federovich. Point by point, the acupuncturist places needles in one ear and then the other until the patient says they feel better. By confining treatment to the ears, battlefield acupuncture practitioners can give care on the battlefield or whenever a service member’s entire body is not available for treatment.
Each time Federovich placed a pair of needles, she asked Stanford to move her arms and hands. With every placement, Stanford found it easier to move. Every time Federovich asked Stanford if she wanted the treatment to continue, she responded with an enthusiastic “Oh yeah” or “Yes ma’am!”
“I was elated that Nadine was pain-free by the end of the session,” Federovich said. “Her daily life is a struggle due to pain from her contractures, spasms and wounds. It is very overwhelming to see her that happy and relaxed.”
Federovich cautioned that battlefield acupuncture doesn’t always work so quickly and dramatically. “The average response to BFA is a 2.2-point reduction in pain [on the zero-to-10 scale] from pre- to post-session. Some Veterans have a more significant pain reduction response than others. Having total pain relief is the best-case scenario.”
Acupuncture a part of Whole Health
Federovich said that battlefield acupuncture, along with standard acupuncture, is a key component of the Whole Health movement. Whole Health focuses on outcomes the Veteran wants for their life, as opposed to diseases or injuries they may have. It also arranges care to meet those outcomes.
“We’re empowering our Veterans to be an active participant in their health care,” she said. “Things like chronic pain, anxiety, PTSD, these are things that battlefield acupuncture can address so the Veterans are not dependent on meds.”
Federovich is the first advanced practice nurse at VA Pittsburgh to be certified in battlefield acupuncture. As a result, she is ready to train other health care practitioners. “I am eager to roll BFA out to the rest of the facility. I am hopeful that other Veterans will have similar responses and improve their quality of life.”
Keith E. Gottschalk is a public affairs specialist with the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.