Needles and Ears: How Auricular Acupuncture Can Help

Most people are a bit nervous during their first acupuncture treatment. Common concerns revolve around how it will feel and where on the body needles will be inserted. It makes sense intuitively that acupuncturists will choose points near problems areas, such as using points on the shoulder, arm, and hand for a painful shoulder. However, we also choose points elsewhere on the body, and many patients ask why I often select points on the surface of the ear. Auricular acupuncture, or acupuncture on the surface of the ear, is one of the most extensively used microsystems in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Microsystems use one aspect of the body – for example the ears, abdomen, or feet – to diagnose and treat conditions found elsewhere on the body. To an acupuncturist, the ear is a powerful medium to either focus a treatment or even use exclusively to affect great change in the body.

35462734 - close-up of acupuncture needles on man's ear

As a microsystem, we think of the ear as a map of the entire body. The layout of this map shows an upside-down human body with the earlobe representing the head and the forked ridge near the top of the ear (antihelix crus) as the legs. The outer edge of the  ear corresponds to the outside or periphery of the body and the more interior portions near the auditory canal relate to the internal organs. In total there are over 90 discrete points mapped out on the ear, which leads to many different options for treatment. Acupuncturists can use this map to both discover and diagnose dysfunction in the body as well as treat it directly using acupuncture.

There are several common methods of selecting ear points for treatment. I generally use one to three ear points to help focus my treatments on particular problem areas.  In combination with using acupuncture points on the body, I will also select a point on the ear corresponding to the central health issue we are addressing, i.e., the shoulder point for shoulder pain or the spleen point for digestive issues. This is a complimentary approach that I find very beneficial to my patients. Alternatively, we can use just ear points for a treatment. This is approach is more often used for addiction or for painful situations where a person may still need to move or be moved. A perfect example is during childbirth. There are several great pain reduction points on the body, but if instead we use only ear points then the woman in labor can still easily change positions, walk around, and use her hands without worrying about painful feedback from the needles. Whatever the technique applied, auricular acupuncture is a wonderful tool in the hands of a qualified practitioner.

[written by Charles]