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Our soldiers deserve better

8 Feb 2011. After our soldiers in Afghanistan are blown up by an IED that was not detected by a dowsing rod sold as a bomb detector, the injured soldiers are treated with battlefield acupuncture. Students of placebo medicine would probably identify the positive results reported as due mostly to the relaxation effect. Using acupuncture on the battlefield was initiated by Richard Niemtzow, M.D., an Air Force colonel. I wrote about his lack of controlled studies two years ago, but he's still collecting anecdotes from satisfied customers. He's got at least one news reporter on his side: battlefield acupuncture, writes Saeed Shah, is "helping heal soldiers with concussions so they can return more quickly to the front lines." How cool is that?

Now the military has another expert who thinks he knows how acupuncture works. Navy Commander Keith Stuessi is enthusiastic about the treatment. The Navy has now trained about 50 doctors in acupuncture, Stuessi said, and the Air Force uses the technique to dampen the pain on long flights for evacuating wounded soldiers back to the U.S.

Stuessi thinks acupuncture works by adjusting the "neural pathways" in the body. "It's like rewiring a computer; you're hitting certain nerves in the body. So instead of sending up a pain signal to the brain, they send up a signal saying everything's OK. It's almost like faking out the brain," Stuessi said. I've never thought of post hoc reasoning as faking out the brain, but it's as good an explanation as any, I suppose. The evidence from studies on acupuncture, however, don't support Steussi's notion.




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