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The Ancient Art of Auricular Acupuncture
Written by Rebecca Stephens   

Feeling unwell? Lend me your ears...

brass bowlHave you ever experienced a light touch on your ear and felt the sensation travel down your spine, or even to your toes? The ear has a plethora of nerves, and the mysterious connection between the ear and the rest of the body has been the subject of intrigue since ancient times. Stemming from this curiosity, a system was developed in which specific points on the outer ear (auricle) were identified and treated to address whole-body conditions, and auricular acupuncture was born. Despite a long period of fading into the background of history, it has re-emerged to find a place in many important medical applications today.

The earliest use of auricular acupuncture dates back to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Chinese. It is most often recognized as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which is where it can be found in modern practice. French physician and acupuncturist Dr. Paul Nogier is largely credited for reviving the practice in 1957. Studies that followed found auricular acupuncture to be of immense value in the treatment of pain, trauma and mental health issues. Consequently, stand-alone ear point protocols were developed for specific applications, such as acupuncture anesthesia, acupuncture detox, and “battlefield acupuncture.” Successful use of auricular acupuncture-induced anesthesia has been recorded in surgical procedures. This potential has led to acupuncture use being considered for lowering both the need for narcotic drugs, and cost of procedure.

The National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) might lay claim to the most famous use of ear acupuncture, currently considered to be one of the most effective forms of therapy in the treatment of addictions. The “NADA protocol” was developed in the 1970s in a South Bronx medical facility as a drug-free alterative to methadone therapy, and is now taught to health professionals around the world as a tool to treat many types of addictions. Since first use of the term in 2001, “battlefield acupuncture” has been making waves in the US military. Medical personnel are using a five-ear-point protocol for cases of acute trauma, chronic pain and PTSD.

The most recent noteworthy development in auricular acupuncture is its integration alongside western medicine in Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) procedures. Acupuncture performed immediately before and after embryo transfer in IVF procedures has been clinically shown to significantly improve success rates, and ear points are an integral part of the treatment. In Vancouver, this service is performed on-site at local fertility clinics by trained members of the IVF Acupuncture Group (

The greatest benefits of auricular acupuncture are that it is simple, inexpensive and practical. Because the therapy is confined to a small part of the body, it can be performed with the patient in various positions, or even moving around to a small degree. That means it can be used where other forms of acupuncture may be difficult, like at a busy walk-in community centre, or in a patient with compromised motor control. Minimal and inexpensive equipment is involved, with easy set-up and high portability. These features also make it easy to incorporate into western medicine settings. Auricular acupuncture is a drug-free way to address symptoms, lightening considerations for drug interactions, and bringing great potential in reducing our overall health care costs.

Rebecca Stephens -

Rebecca is a Registered Acupuncturist (R.Ac.), Herbalist and Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner (R.TCM.P.) with the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of British Columbia. She graduated as Class Valedictorian from PCU College of Holistic Medicine (Burnaby, BC), and received a Doctor of Chinese Medicine degree from Pacific Rim College (Victoria, BC). She also holds an Honours B.Sc.(Agr.) from Dalhousie University (Halifax, NS). Rebecca’s practice focuses on musculoskeletal pain and injury, stress and anxiety, addictions, gastrointestinal issues and women’s health issues, using the whole-body approach of Chinese Medicine and acupuncture, in which every problem has the potential to be addressed.