by Liz Miller, L.Ac., MSOM
Auricular (ear) acupuncture is the stimulation of points on the external surface of the ear, for both diagnosis and treatment of health conditions throughout the body. The ear is considered a microcosm of the body, meaning the entire body is mapped on the ear. This map is usually demonstrated by superimposing a fetus over the ear, with the head covering the lobe, the feet and toes are found close to the top of the ear and the internal organs in the middle. Similar microsystems can be found on the foot, hand, scalp, and even in the iris. Each part of the microsystem reflects a particular part of the body, and includes the physical, physiological, and emotional forms.
Thanks to neuroscientist Wilder Penfield, we know the surface of the brain is covered with maps of the body. These brain maps are displayed on certain areas of the body, creating the microsystems. Neurological connections between the target tissue (area of pain) and the brain also connect with the ear (and all other microsystems). So by stimulating a point on the ear, the brain sends a direct signal to that area of the body to alleviate pain and other symptoms. This direct connection to the brain is the reason why these points are so effective and why we only need to use one ear.
The neural connections are seen both ways. The stimulation of the ear sends a signal to the brain and then to the intended tissue, but the reverse is also true. The target tissue will send signals to the brain, which then shows up on the ear. These signals can be seen on the ear either through an enlarged vein, swelling, or increased tenderness. These markings or sensitivities are diagnostic tools, so the ear is not just used to treat pain, but also shows where the imbalances lie.
Auricular acupuncture is incredibly useful for the treatment of migraines, pain conditions, menstrual cycle irregularity, digestion upsets, addictions, anxiety, insomnia and so much more. Typically sterilized stainless steel needles are used to stimulate the points, but small seeds are also used to apply direct pressure to a point and taped over to be worn home.