What is Auricular Acupuncture?

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When you come in for acupuncture at REP Physio, your acupuncturist may occasionally give you ear seeds (small round seeds taped to the ear) along with your regular treatment. They are not used with every client but can be helpful in the treatment of migraines, headaches, smoking cessation, weight loss, or insomnia.

Ear Acupuncture: What You Need To Know

Auricular acupuncture (commonly referred to as ear acupuncture) is a form of acupuncture which focuses on the ear. Auricular acupuncture is based on a microsystem, where specific points on the ear are used to treat conditions anywhere on the body – similar to the way reflexology is used on the foot.

These ear points correspond with internal organs, systems, or body parts. Acupuncture points can stimulate body functions, affect the organs, and influence specific areas of the body. Auricular acupuncture can even be used for anaesthesia purposes during medical procedures. Often it is used as a part of a protocol to help overcome drug and nicotine addictions and to detoxify the body.

Auriculotherapy Indications and Effects

Auricular acupuncture can be used for several different things. Most commonly, auricular acupuncture is used for:

  • headache
  • migraines
  • stress
  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • smoking cessation

There have been many clinical trials and pilot studies that have investigated auricular acupuncture.  These studies have demonstrated improvements in insomnia and chronic pain through the use of auricular acupuncture. Significant improvements in quality and duration of sleep have been seen with the use of auricular acupuncture. In one study, patients underwent an fMRI to determine the specificity of auricular acupuncture points, showing that different auricular points did affect different parts of the brain when they were needled. 

Studies have also shown its efficacy in the treatment of addictions. Auricular acupuncture is beneficial for the symptoms of withdrawal, as well as other associated symptoms such as insomnia, stress, poor concentration, headaches, and energy levels. In our clinic auricular acupuncture is often used during smoking cessation treatments for these reasons.  

A specialized protocol, called the national acupuncture detoxification association protocol (NADA protocol), was developed specifically for the treatment of substance abuse in the 1970s in the United States. It has been used since then very successfully in detox treatments for a variety of symptoms associated with substance abuse treatment. 

Auricular Acupuncture for Smoking Cessation

Acupuncture can be very helpful in the treatment of smoking cessation. Acupuncture is beneficial in the withdrawal from nicotine. This can help reduce cravings, and reduce the symptoms that you may experience while you quit smoking. You may experience things such as stress, anxiety, headache, irritability, insomnia, fatigue, and poor concentration, which are all things that can be addressed with acupuncture. 

Because there are very few side effects, this is a safe method of treatment for quitting smoking. 

During treatment for smoking cessation, at least two initial treatments will be needed to deal with nicotine withdrawal. This is the most challenging part of quitting smoking, so it is a good idea to come in for more frequent treatment. 

After the first week, it is important to continue coming in for additional treatments to help with the other symptoms that are associated with quitting smoking. There is much more to quitting smoking than just the nicotine addiction, so acupuncture is very helpful to address these issues.

 For this treatment, a combination of the NADA protocol and other acupuncture body points are used, based on your own personal health history. 

How Is It Performed?

During treatment, either ear seeds or acupuncture needles may be used on or about the external ear.  Seeds are placed on various points, many of which correspond to different parts of the body. This is usually in addition to your typical acupuncture treatment with needles being used on the body as well. In some cases, auricular acupuncture may be the main aspect of the treatment, such as in acupuncture for smoking cessation. Auricular acupuncture is often used as a way to extend the benefits of your regular treatment.

The ear seeds are small round seeds that are fixed in place using small squares of surgical tape. The seeds can be left in place for up to 5 days. During this time, they should be pressed for a couple of seconds every few hours. This stimulates the points, helping prolong the effects of your acupuncture treatment until the next time you come in.

What Are The Benefits Of Auricular Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a beneficial addition to your normal acupuncture treatment. At the end of the treatment you may receive several ear seeds that are placed in different parts of the ear. After you leave the clinic, you can use these as a form of acupressure.  

Throughout the day, you can press on the seeds one after another for about five to ten seconds. This extends the benefit of your treatment after you leave the clinic, stimulating these acupuncture points. These ear seeds are very small and not very noticeable, and are not painful. Younger kids can benefit from these ear seeds as well, especially if they are nervous about needles. 

Differences Between Ear Acupuncture And Body Acupuncture

Auricular acupuncture and body acupuncture are both health care modalities associated with acupuncture in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Auricular acupuncture is a modern branch of treatment that focuses solely on the ear, while body acupuncture uses acupuncture points that are found throughout the body, including the ear. 

Auricular acupuncture is based on what is called a microsystem, where all of the body is reflected on a specific area, the ear. When you look at the ear, each part of the ear corresponds to a specific part of the body. Conditions having to do with the head, such as headache, or jaw pain are generally treated using points on the earlobe, whereas conditions that concern digestive issues are treated using points that are found more centrally on the ear. Conditions that have to do with the nervous system are found more at the top of the ear. 

These points can be stimulated by either the use of needles, or the use of ear seeds with acupressure.

Traditional acupuncture uses acupuncture points that are found all over the body, on pathways called meridians. This specialized system has been developed over hundreds and hundreds of years. Acupuncture points each have their own specific location on the body. Acupuncture points along a meridian usually have functions that relate to that meridian and often treat very specific symptoms.  Combinations of these points are used to treat various health conditions. 

Ear Acupoints Overview

Some auricular points are very well known, such as the acupoint known as Shenmen. Shenmen is very widely used in almost every auricular acupuncture treatment. It is an excellent point for calming the body, and is often used for insomnia. 

The acupoint known as Sympathetic is also commonly used.  This is a point that is often used in pain relief, as it is effective in balancing the nervous system. 

Other auricular points such as Adrenal or Endocrine work to reduce pain and inflammation, and also hormonal issues. 

In addition, there are points named for each of the internal organs and for specific body parts. These points are used for more specific pain relief, for example the shoulder point is used for shoulder pain.

The NADA protocol very specifically uses five auricular points: the Sympathetic, Shen Men, Kidney, Liver, and Lung.

Occasionally during an acupuncture treatment one or more auricular points may be used in addition to body points. Typically ear seeds are used at the end of the treatment to be left on for several days. 

For further reading:

Auricular Acupuncture for Chronic Pain and Insomnia: A Randomized Clinical Trial
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6205765/

Efficacy and Safety of Auricular Acupuncture for the Treatment of Insomnia in Breast Cancer Survivors: A Randomized Controlled Trial
https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6694/13/16/4082

Ear acupuncture and fMRI: a pilot study for assessing the specificity of auricular points
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24867864/

NADA Ear Acupuncture: An Adjunctive Therapy to Improve and Maintain Positive Outcomes in Substance Abuse Treatment
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5485467/

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