You may be surprised to know that ear acupuncture is a commonly practiced method of healing by many practitioners of Chinese medicine. Also called auricular acupuncture, needles placed in your ear can be an effective treatment for a variety of conditions.
Auricular acupuncture is considered to be a healing microsystem, a little bit like foot reflexology. It’s based on the idea of using one part of your body as a map to treat other parts. For example, if you had lower back pain, your acupuncturist would place a needle in the ear point that corresponds to your lower back. Beyond foot reflexology, other microsystems that are in use include Korean hand therapy, scalp acupuncture, and even gene therapy, in which an entire map of your body is contained in your DNA—and can be manipulated for the purpose of healing.
Auricular acupuncture can be used as a stand-alone treatment or it can be combined with body acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, heat therapy, cupping, food therapy, and other healing methods. In addition, auricular therapy isn’t limited to just the use of acupuncture needles. Some acupuncturists use tiny ear beads, seeds, and even crystals that are affixed to points in your ear with small, round adhesive patches, and can be left in place for several days.
Your ear can also be a great tool for diagnosing health issues. The overall appearance of your ear can speak to the condition of your health in general. For example, if your ears appear red, it suggests that you have some kind of heat in your body, such as inflammation, infection, or an elevated body temperature. If your ears have a lot of tiny spider veins, it may indicate sluggish or stagnant blood, such as bruising, severe pain, or varicose veins elsewhere in your body. On a finer level, areas of dry skin, discoloration, bumps, or tenderness in your ear indicate a health concern in the corresponding part of your body. These changes in the appearance of your ear help direct your practitioner in both diagnosis and their treatment strategy.
A variety of conditions can be treated with auricular acupuncture, because your entire body is represented in your ear. That said, auricular acupuncture is known to be especially effective in treating pain conditions, addictions, smoking cessation, stress, and anxiety. A five-point ear acupuncture protocol has been embraced by the National Acupuncture Detox Association (NADA) as a first line of treatment in drug and alcohol detoxification. In addition, the Veteran’s Administration uses five-point auricular acupuncture as a therapy for veterans who have served in combat and are struggling with post-traumatic stress (PTSD), as well as an ear protocol for pain, called Battlefield Acupuncture.
Auricular acupuncture is portable—only a few small needles are needed to perform a treatment. As such, it’s been used by acupuncturists in several emergency scenarios. After 9/11, a number of acupuncture volunteers used ear acupuncture to treat first responders at the site of the World Trade Center for exhaustion, stress, and trauma. In the years since then, volunteer acupuncturists through the organization, Acupuncturists Without Borders (AWB) have been on the scene in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, after the earthquake in Haiti, and many other disaster-stricken areas.
Auricular acupuncture has a lot going for it as a treatment method. It’s fairly easy to learn, quick to perform, transportable, and can be performed in a small space. It can be complicated or simple, depending on the circumstances. Your practitioner can work from a 200-point map of your ear, or can choose to use a fixed five-point protocol. Most importantly, auricular acupuncture can be an effective method for rapidly treating pain, stress, anxiety, addictions, and a wide variety of other conditions.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.