Feel anxious? Suffering from whiplash or tennis elbow? Why not stick a needle in your ear!
Yes, all of these conditions and more can be managed with ear acupuncture…or so they claim. What does science say? The blame stops at the ear, friends! Let’s find out more.
Acupuncture is a mainstay of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In this system you have your vital energy called qi. Qi flows from your vital organs outward through the body via channels called meridians. If the flow of qi is disrupted or out of balance, the theory goes, your health suffers.
By inserting fine needles into your body at certain points along the meridians (and a few other important places), acupuncturists say they can rebalance your qi and heal you.
Auricular acupuncture is sometimes called auriculotherapy or auricular acupuncture. It’s the same thing, but it only focuses on the acupuncture points found in your ears.
A typical ear acupuncture appointment can take up to an hour. And it is essential to consult a licensed, qualified and experienced acupuncturist to ensure a safe experience.
Acupuncturists claim that there is more than 200 individual points in the ear which each have a different effect when the needle is applied. Some schools of thought may differ, but you’ll generally see the five most important points listed as follows:
- Autonomic point, which affects your nervous system
- Shen Men, which calms anxiety
- Kidney point, it affects your internal organs
- Liver point, the point responsible for blood flow and purity
- Pulmonary point, which deals with breathing
Good ear mapping is essential because some of these points have very different effects from their neighbours. The antihistamine point, for example, is right next to that of testicular secretion. For the record, the ovarian secretions are next to the subcortex.
Some acupuncturists use the image of an inverted fetus (as it would be at around 34 weeks pregnant) and map it against the ear. This is because the lower ear pressure points deal with conditions affecting the head. The internal organs are in the middle of the ear, the spine and the lower body are located at the top of the ear.
Others represent this using an upside-down map of the ear so it’s easier to visualize the correlation between pressure points and different areas of your body. Be that as it may, there are exceptions and contradictions; one of the highest points in the ear is actually the tonsils.
The most common conditions that ear acupuncturists claim to be able to treat include:
- chronic pain
- The Depression
- Pain from surgery (especially cancer surgery)
- Digestion problems
Some professionals also say they can use ear acupuncture for things like muscle spasms, whiplash, inflammation, tinnitus; The list is lengthened increasingly.
Obviously, this is a fairly wide range of conditions that a single treatment should tackle. You might be wondering how much hard evidence backs all of this up…
Acupuncture is often lumped together with other alternative medicine like pseudoscience or quackery. It will not shock you to learn that hard evidence is lacking for qi, meridians, or any related mystical concept.
However, there are a number of small-scale studies that suggest ear acupuncture may have tangible medical value:
BUT, there is a common theme running through all of these limited studies – in the vast majority of cases the sample sizes were small and the resulting data was not of the highest quality. This is especially true when it comes to the long-term effects of auricular acupuncture.
Efforts are being made to standardize and improve quality auricular acupuncture trials. At this time, there do not appear to be any safety risks posed by this type of alternative medicine, and it is often given alongside other treatments.
If you think it might help you, it is strongly recommended that you seek the advice of qualified medical professionals first.
Your first ear acupuncture session can last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending on what you’re trying to fix. Each acupuncturist will work slightly differently, but most sessions should follow a loose format.
1: The interview
The therapist will begin by asking a series of questions to get an idea of your condition. Topics might include your sleep pattern, your sex life, your stress level, not everything seems immediately relevant to why you’re there.
Do not worry. Acupuncture takes a holistic and interconnected view of the body. It connects systems that conventional medicine might not believe are actually connected. Answer as honestly as possible to get the best acupuncture experience possible.
We assume you are only here for ear acupuncture, in which case you will receive your treatment while seated. If you get more points examined, you may be asked to lie down face down.
From there, the therapist will use single-use sterilized needles to work the chosen pressure points. These are very thin, so you should barely feel them going in. The needles are left in place for the duration of the treatment, which may feel strange for a while while you get used to it.
Most people can experience deep relaxation during acupuncture treatment due to the natural release of serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine from your brain. New patients may even be sleepy. For this reason, it is often recommended to rest after a treatment.
Once the treatment is complete, the needles will be removed (again, usually painlessly) and discarded.
You may be asked a few quick questions after the treatment to see how it went. If you book a second appointment, the therapist may offer you other types of TCM to complement the acupuncture.
When performed correctly by a licensed provider, auricular acupuncture is generally safe. But there is risks for acupuncture if not executed correctly. These include:
- Infection from dirty needles
- Puncture wounds
- nerve damage
More frequently, some people experience mild nausea or dizziness during acupuncture. Of course, there is also the possibility of pain and tenderness in the treated areas. Because you know… needles.
It may be a good idea to talk to your health care provider if you take blood thinners or have a bleeding disorder like hemophilia.
Finally, there is a pressure point that is said to induce labor. Science has yet to make a firm decision on this, but for now, pregnant women should discuss acupuncture with a medical professional if you want to go down this route.
If you are considering trying auricular acupuncture, it is essential to consult a qualified person who is accredited by a reputable body, wherever you live in the world.
If you are in the United States, the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) is the only organization that certifies acupuncturists. They keep a updated list of licensed acupuncturists on their website.
Alternatively, your doctor or other healthcare professional can recommend an acupuncturist near you. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS), for example, gives acupuncture information and links to trusted vendors.
Don’t be afraid to ask your potential new supplier a few questions to get a sense of their credibility. They should have no difficulty talking about their qualifications and experience.
If needles aren’t your thing, consider using ear seeds instead. It’s actually acupressure – an alternative to acupuncture that uses the same qi balancing points through the ear. A licensed therapist will use tiny little stickers with a seed attached, placing them on your ear so the seeds sink into the right spots.
You will then spend the next three to five days gently massaging these seeds, purportedly offering the same range of medical benefits as acupuncture. There is a similar lack of quality evidence on the actual effectiveness of ear seeds at the moment, however, there isn’t much reason to feel unsafe either.
The side effects of ear seeds are usually limited to skin irritation from the stickers.
If you’re also following proven medical treatment for a condition, there’s usually no reason not to back it up with auricular acupressure if desired.
Acupuncture has developed over time into a complex art. Although we seriously need more solid scientific data on the specific mechanisms it uses, some (preliminary) evidence seems to support it as a valid treatment.
Millions of people who have tried it swear by its effectiveness. As long as it accompanies a proven form of traditional treatment, ear acupuncture could offer you much-needed relief for a range of conditions. But be sure to only visit a licensed acupuncturist.