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Later, he established the acupuncture clinic at the Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Andrews, and he continued to expand acupuncture by treating patients at Walter Reed and other Air Force bases in the country and in Germany. Niemtzow and his colleague Col. Stephen Burns administer about a dozen forms of acupuncture -- including one type that uses lasers -- to soldiers and their families every week.
Col. Arnyce Pock, medical director for the Air Force Medical Corps, said acupuncture comes without the side effects that are common after taking traditional painkillers. Acupuncture also quickly treats pain.
"It allows troops to reduce the number of narcotics they take for pain, and have a better assessment of any underlying brain injury they may have," Pock said. "When they're on narcotics, you can't do that because they're feeling the effects of the drugs."
Niemtzow cautions that while acupuncture can be effective, it's not a cure-all.
"In some instances it doesn't work," he said. "But it can be another tool in one's toolbox to be used in addition to painkillers to reduce the level of pain even further."
Smith says the throbbing pain in his leg didn't change with acupuncture treatment but that the pain levels in his arm and ribs were the lowest they've been since he was injured. He also said that he didn't feel groggy afterward, a side-effect he usually experiences from the low-level morphine he takes.
Ultimately, Niemtzow would like troops to learn acupuncture so they can treat each other while out on missions. For now, the Air Force program is limited to training physicians.
He says it's "remarkable" for the military, a "conservative institution," to incorporate acupuncture.
"The history of military medicine is rich in development," he said, "and a lot of people say that if the military is using it, then it must be good for the civilian world."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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