Ear Acupuncture

Ever wondered about ear acupuncture, and how does it work?

The incidence of ear acupuncture goes back many thousands of years:

  • There is reference made to the healing power of the auricle in the Nei Jing, dating back to 475-221 BCE.
  • Evidence suggests that it was used in various forms in many parts of the world including ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece.  Sharpened stones or bamboo were used to stimulate points on the ear, which were found to help disease.  Stones were replaced by fish bones and then metal. 
  • Egyptologist Alexandre Varille documented that women in ancient Egypt, who didn’t want more children, would have their outer ear pricked and cauterized. 
  • Gold earrings were worn by Mediterranean sailors as it was thought to improve vision. 
  • Hippocrates reported that doctors would open the vein behind the ear to help relieve impotence.  
  • Greek physician Galen reported of bloodletting the veins behind the ear for treatment of sciatica.  After the fall of Rome, these records were preserved by Middle Eastern Islamic cultures.

Chinese Roots

Ear acupuncture has been traced back to 281 CE in China for the treatment of many diseases. By 1888, physician Zheng Zhen says the posterior part of the external ear can be divided into five regions.  Massaging the ear lobe was used to treat common colds and needling the ear rim was said to expel external pathogenic factors like wind and good for back aches.  Treatment of the antihelix and antitragus were used to treat headaches due to wind-heat.  In the 1800s, however, acupuncture appears to have fallen out of favour.  After the Chinese military suffered defeat by the British Government during the Opium wars, confidence in Chinese Medicine faded.   The Chinese started to practise Western Medicine in hospitals as they were impressed by Western Science and biological discoveries, like antiseptic.   However, rural areas changed at a much slower rate and continued to use acupuncture as a treatment modality.  In 1949 Chairman Mao reinvigorated the use of Ancient Chinese Medicine and encouraged its scientific development.

20th Century

The system of ear acupuncture we use today was developed by a French neurologist, Dr Paul Nogier in the 1950s, after seeing cauterisation scars in some of his patients.   These were the result of a lay practitioner, who, it is thought was taught these techniques by her father, who had travelled in China.  Areas of the outer ear had been cauterized for treatment of sciatica.  Dr Nogier tried it with his own patients, which worked even when western medicine failed.  Once he had learned acupuncture, he started to use acupuncture needles to avoid scarring his patients. He developed the map we use today, which is the upside-down foetus, representing the whole body on the ear.  The head being the lobe and the vital organs located in the superior and inferior concha of the ear.  It encompasses the organs, nervous system and musculoskeletal system.  Science speculates that ear acupuncture works on the basis that each stem cell holds the information for the whole organism.  They create regional organisation centres representing different parts of the body by recruiting more cortex cells dedicated to specific areas of the body.  When reflex points on the ear are stimulated they relieve symptoms of distant pathology.

The ear can also be used as a diagnostic tool. Everyone’s ear is different and unique to them, like as finger print.   Areas of the ear can be probed for tenderness as well as observing differences in the skin colour and vessels, which can be an indication of imbalance and the treatment required.  There are over 200 acupuncture points on the ear and various ear acupuncture protocols are used in the treatment of drug and alcohol misuse, weight loss, fertility and other treatments.  Ear acupuncture can be incorporated with body acupuncture or alongside other holistic treatments

The most commonly used ear acupuncture protocol in the UK and around the world is NADA (National Acupuncture Detox Association).  This is a five-point protocol, where small, fine disposable needles are inserted into each ear. This protocol was developed by Dr Mike Smith, in the Lincoln Recovery Centre, in New York City’s Bronx in the 1970s and was within the treatment setting of addictions.  He found that it eased symptoms of addiction and helped recipients feel calm. 

Ear Acupuncture today

NADA ear acupuncture is carried out in a group setting and therefore not only are costs kept low, but it also develops a sense of community.  For over a year, I administered the NADA protocol working from a centre at the MIND Charity and in my experience the people attending this clinic visited for a multitude of reasons.  Some to relieve symptoms of mental health, others to continue their drug and alcohol prevention programme, to aid relaxation and others to meditate as treatments are carried out in a quiet setting.  Elsewhere, it has also been implemented in 130 prisons in England.  The protocol has been used after disasters and in war zones; after earth quakes and hurricanes for treating shock along with other mental health issues.  It was used for this purpose when treating firefighters along with others affected after the twin tower attacks on 9/11 and more recently, here in the UK after the Grenfell fire.  NADA is a stand-alone treatment but can also be used in combination with counselling and other support groups.  

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References:

  • Auriculotherapy, Terry Oleson
  • Nada GB resources
  • Own study notes