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What is Auricular Acupuncture?

By Devon Pryor
Updated Feb 21, 2024
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Auricular acupuncture is, quite simply, acupuncture done on the ear. Acupuncture is an ancient medicinal practice that originated in China. The name comes from the Latin acus, or “needle”, and from pungere, or “prick,” and involves the insertion of superfine needles into specific points on the body. Once inserted, the needles can be manipulated to stimulate the body for healing effects. In auricular acupuncture, the insertion of needles is performed on the ear, which is thought to contain a myriad of important and potentially therapeutic acupuncture points.

Today acupuncture, it is most closely associated with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). However, the ancient practice has received great attention in the western world as well, and is sometimes incorporated into western-style medicinal practices. As the practice has spread and become more widely followed throughout the world, the appearance of medical groups dedicated to one or more area of acupuncture has also become common.

One such specialized group is comprised of those acupuncturists who focus on ear acupuncture. An auricular acupuncturist must be familiar with roughly two hundred acupuncture points that exist in the outer ear. It should be noted that acupuncture needles are never inserted into the auditory canal, the hole leading to the inner ear. An ear acupuncturist’s workspace is the auricle, or fleshy cartilage of the outer ear, also called the pinna.

As with all forms of acupuncture, the acupuncture points found in the outer ear correspond to other locations in the body. By stimulating these points, called acupoints for short, the acupuncture needle sends electrical impulse messages to the brain, which are then thought to stimulate other areas of the body. In this way, auricular acupuncture can relieve pain in the joints and muscles, stimulate the organs and the brain itself, and achieve a number of other therapeutic effects for the patient. The outer ear is thought to be a particularly rich source of these points, which may explain the need for specialization in auricular acupuncture.

In the more westernized style of auricular acupuncture, one particularly interesting tool has come into use. This is the electro acupunctoscope, an electric tool used by the acupuncturist to both locate and stimulate acupoints on the outer ear. With this tool, also used in whole-body acupuncture, the acupuncturist stimulates acupoints through what is known as Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). The acupunctoscope replaces the use of inserted needles with electrical impulses, and is thought to be equally effective. It is not, however, a tool used in traditional acupuncture. In fact, due to the absence of needles that puncture the skin, this therapy is not truly acupuncture at all. It may be thought of, rather, as a westernized therapy that focuses on the same acupoints and body meridians as traditional acupuncture, but accesses these points in a different manner.

Auricular acupuncture is thought to be effective in treating mental/emotional disturbances including anxiety, depression, and insomnia. It is also used to treat physical pain such as arthritis, back pain, migraine, headache, tendinitis, and sciatic pain. Through stimulation of corresponding points in the brain and body, auricular acupuncture is also used as a therapy to treat digestive problems such as colitis and indigestion, as well as respiratory and sinus problems like asthma, hay fever and sinusitis. The therapy may also be used to treat obesity, pre-menstrual syndrome, and addiction to drugs, alcohol and cigarettes.

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