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What Is Ear Acupuncture?

By Natalie S. - Jan 7, 2020 9:11:00 AM

2 people looking at ear acupunture chart

Ear acupuncture is sometimes known as auricular acupuncture. As the name suggests, it is a type of acupuncture that uses points located on the ears. It has many similarities with regular acupuncture, and some key differences too.

In this article, we explore some of the theory behind ear acupuncture, and some of the reasons why you might use it.

What is Ear Acupuncture?

According to acupuncture theory, the ear represents a smaller version of the whole body. The easiest way to understand this idea is to picture an upside-down fetus. The ear lobe represents the head, and the helix (the outer ridge of the ear) represents the spine. The internal organs such as the heart, lungs, and kidneys are close to the center of the ear.

The ear is an example of  what practitioners call an ‘acupuncture microsystem.’ Other microsystems include the hands and feet, but the ears are by far the most commonly used.

The idea behind ear acupuncture is that by treating a point on the ear, you can have an influence over the corresponding area of the body. There are several advantages to doing this rather than using regular acupuncture as we will discuss in the following sections.

What is the Difference Between Ear Acupuncture and Regular Acupuncture?

One of the biggest differences between ear acupuncture and regular acupuncture is age. While acupuncture has been used in China for thousands of years, ear acupuncture is a relatively modern concept. It was invented in the mid-twentieth century by a French neurologist named Nogier, and has only become popular over the past few decades.

Regular acupuncture uses points located all over the body, from the top of the head to the soles of the feet. Some of these points are useful for treating local problems. For example, points on the lower back can be helpful for back pain, and so on. These are known as local points.

Other points are more useful for treating problems in other parts of the body. For example, certain points on the feet can be effective for relieving headaches. These are known as distal points.

With ear acupuncture, points on the ears can be helpful for treating a wide variety of problems. They can be used in combination with body acupuncture or by themselves.

Apart from this major difference, the way that acupuncturists perform ear acupuncture is quite different from regular acupuncture. For starters, the needles used in ear acupuncture are much smaller than regular acupuncture needles. This helps them to stay in place throughout the treatment without inserting them too deeply.

Another feature of ear acupuncture is that the points are not necessarily in a fixed location. Your acupuncturist may need to use a special tool to find the points inside your ear. They may ask you to tell them when you feel a change in sensation, which will help them to locate the point.

Benefits of Ear Acupuncture

One of the major benefits of ear acupuncture is that patients do not need to get undressed or lie down. It is easy to perform ear acupuncture with the patient fully clothed and sitting in a chair. This makes it ideal for group settings such as rehab clinics. It can also be a great introduction to acupuncture for anyone who feels nervous about getting it for the first time.

Another benefit of ear acupuncture is that an acupuncturist can use ‘ear seeds’ or tiny needles known as ‘intradermal needles.’ These are attached to a piece of medical tape, similar to a small plaster. The patient can keep the seeds or needles in place for several hours or even days. This technique is especially useful for patients who need relief from symptoms in between their treatment sessions.

Ear acupuncture can help with many of the same issues that regular acupuncture can. However, in some cases, it may be most effective to use the two treatments together.

Ear Acupuncture for Addiction

One of the most common uses of ear acupuncture is in the treatment of addiction, and it is often used in rehab settings.

The most common treatment for addiction is called the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) protocol. This uses five different points in the ear. They include Shen Men, which translates as ‘spirit gate,’ and points corresponding to the sympathetic nervous system, liver, lung, and kidney.

This protocol is useful for relieving anxiety, improving sleep, and making it easier to cope with withdrawal symptoms. Some studies have also suggested that ear acupuncture makes recipients more likely to complete their detox programs. 

As well as helping people with cocaine, alcohol, and opioid addictions, ear acupuncture may benefit people who want to stop smoking or lose weight.

Other Uses of Ear Acupuncture

As well potentially offering relief to patients suffering from substance withdrawal, ear acupuncture has several other uses. Two of the most common of these are pain and insomnia.

Because the ear contains points relating to every body part, ear acupuncture can be useful for targeting pain in a specific area. Furthermore, because it has such calming effects, it could be helpful for patients with sleep problems and anxiety.

Ear Acupuncture Side Effects

Ear acupuncture is generally safe and carries a low risk of side effects. However, the ears are a sensitive area and some people may experience minor bleeding, pain, redness, or irritation after receiving ear acupuncture.

Some people may also feel dizzy or light-headed after an ear acupuncture treatment. In rare cases, people have experienced headaches or nausea.

The side effects of ear acupuncture are rarely serious and should subside within a few hours. However, if you are worried, contact your acupuncturist who will be happy to discuss any concerns.

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