Battlefield Acupuncture for Adult Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials

Juan Yang, Ravindra Ganesh, Qinglong Wu, Langping Li, Sandra P. Ogletree, Anna S. Del Fabro, Dietlind L. Wahner-Roedler, Donglin Xiong, Brent A. Bauer, Tony Y. Chon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Pain is a major public health problem, causing heavy social and economic burdens to patients and society while consuming tremendous medical resources at the same time. Thus, there is a critical need to find low-cost, efficacious, and therapeutic approaches to help manage pain. While acupuncture is increasingly recognized as a promising pain-relieving method, less is known about a specific form of auricular acupuncture known as Battlefield Acupuncture (BFA). The BFA technique involves the sequential placement of semi-permanent, single-use, French ASPⓇ golden needles to five specific acupoints in one or both ears, where they are left in place for 3-4 days or longer [Niemtzow, R.C., Battlefield acupuncture. Med. Acupunct. 19: 225-228, 2007]. The BFA needles (more accurately described as tiny conical darts) pierce the ear in designated locations in a particular order [Levy, C.E., N. Casler and D.B. FitzGerald. Battlefield acupuncture: an emerging method for easing pain. Am. J. Phys. Med. Rehabil. 97: e18-e19, 2018.]. (Figs. 4 and 5) It was developed by Dr. Richard C. Niemtzow in 2001, as a subgroup form of an auricular acupuncture technique based on the somatotopic arrangement of an inverted fetus pattern on the external ear [Romoli, M. Ear acupuncture: historical abstract-differences of ear cartography between the east and the west. Dtsch. Z. Akupunkt. 53: 24-33, 2010.]. Currently, BFA is widely used in the US military, but to our knowledge, there is no review which comprehensively synthesizes the current publications surrounding pain management. 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. 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-40
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican Journal of Chinese Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021


  • Adult
  • Auricular Acupuncture
  • Battlefield Acupuncture
  • Pain
  • Review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Complementary and alternative medicine


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