PENSACOLA, Fla. – TRICARE beneficiaries at Naval Hospital Pensacola can now take advantage of acupuncture, which is a nonprescription option for treating pain.
The hospital offers both traditional acupuncture and auricular acupuncture.
According to the Mayo Clinic, acupuncture involves the insertion of extremely thin needles through the skin at strategic points on the body as a technique for balancing the flow of energy believed to pass through pathways (meridians) in the body. By inserting needles into specific points along these meridians, acupuncture practitioners believe that a person’s energy flow will rebalance. Many practitioners also view the acupuncture points as places to stimulate nerves, muscles and connective tissue. The stimulation appears to boost the activity of the body's natural painkillers and increases blood flow.
“Acupuncture is holistic medicine that works with the patient’s energy flow,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jo Ann MartinezGarcia, clinical social worker, Internal Medicine, NHP. “It creates balance and homeostasis. The kind of acupuncture I perform, auricular acupuncture, was further developed by Paul Nogier, a French Neurologist in the 1950s, when he discovered complete pain relief from [the sciatic nerve] on patients with a segment of their ear [damaged]. ”
Auricular acupuncture is performed by administering needles into the ear. It is a treatment system based on normalizing the body’s dysfunction through stimulation of certain points in the ear. Once the needles are inserted, patients can feel instant results.
“It’s a temporary effect, so I use semi-permanent needles to allow the effect to last as long as possible,” said MartinezGarcia. “A person can have significantly reduced pain or even no pain for up to a week without medication. Some patients have achieved 100 percent pain relief without the need for reinsertion of needles. Patients have also reported an increased level of physical functioning and range of motion. For many patients, this creates hope and a new opportunity to engage in activities that they have avoided for so long.”
Acupuncture treatments at NHP are relatively new, but they have been well received so far by beneficiaries.
“I have tried physical therapy, a chiropractor and numerous medications for my back pain,” said Logistics Specialist Second Class Charles Motes, work center supervisor, Mail Room, NHP. “[Acupuncture] has given me the best results. For the most part, my back doesn’t hurt anymore.”
Acupuncture can also assist individuals trying to make healthy lifestyle changes. It is not meant to be a “miracle fix,” but it can be used in conjunction with other behavioral changes.
“Auricular acupuncture can help with weight loss, smoking cessation and depression,” said MartinezGarcia. “It can help relieve cravings, but people can’t expect instantaneous results. It can be effective, but the patient has to be engaged with their own behavioral change.”
In general terms, all acupuncture carries some risks such as discomfort, bruising and dizziness, but the risks or side effects are very minimal. The overall risks of acupuncture are relatively low if you have a competent, certified acupuncture practitioner such as one at NHP.
Acupuncture at NHP is done on a referral only basis.
Beneficiaries should discuss it with their primary care manager to see if acupuncture is a viable option for them.
When asked about the value of having acupuncture available at NHP, Motes said, “It’s worth it, because I had my doubts too. If someone is having trouble with their back or just pain in general, I would tell them to go and at least give it a shot.”