Auricular medicine offers needle-free acupuncture on the go

What’s the No. 1 comment I hear when I tell people I practice acupuncture?

“I hate needles.”

Aside from the fact that many of these same people also sport tattoos, this is a pretty normal reaction to needles, because most of the time needles equal uncomfortable but often necessary medical procedures. That’s when I usually launch into my “4-S” spiel about how acupuncture needles are small (about the width of a human hair), solid (which means less painful), sterile and safe.

Sometimes, though, that’s not enough to convince someone to try acupuncture, even if they have medical conditions that can be helped by acupuncture. So that’s when I start telling them about auricular therapy.

Auricular therapy is a fancy term for placing needles, plant seeds or crystals in or on the ear based on reflex points. Similar to Western reflexology, which uses the feet as a road map for the body, auricular medicine uses the ear as a map of the human body.

In Chinese medical theory, the ear is like an upside-down baby, with the head at the bottom of the lobe, the spine at the curve of the ear and the internal organs on the inside of the ear. By using a tiny probe to press on the ear, an acupuncture physician can find tender spots that may correspond to areas of imbalance in the body. Then the acupuncturist places a set amount of tiny, sterile seeds stuck to band-aids on those exact spots. The patient goes home in 15 minutes or less and presses on the seeds two or three times a day for about five days. After that, the patient takes off the seeds and washes their ear with warm soapy water. After a day of rest, the treatment can be repeated.

There are several advantages to using ear seeds. It’s great to use on younger patients who may not sit still for regular acupuncture. It’s also great for people who don’t have 1 to 2 hours for a traditional acupuncture treatment. And because it lasts for five days, it’s good for addressing anxiety, cravings and pain.

The downside is, if a patient doesn’t press the seeds a few times a day, the treatment doesn’t work. That’s because the pressing of the reflex points on the ear gives the brain a little wake-up call to go check in with the corresponding part of the body.

Sometimes patients are uncomfortable with the thought other people can see the seeds, but crystal seeds? That looks classy. You can take that look to the office any day.

When I was in school, I used ear seeds to help relieve my TMJ pain almost every week. One set of seeds per week, and I didn’t even notice my jaw discomfort. Once I became pregnant, though, my teachers told me the ear seeds were verboten, mainly because of the type of seed used.

After a few weeks or months of using the seeds, the body can become complacent and stop responding to the ear seeds, so sometimes it’s appropriate to take a break from seeds for a period of time, just like with regular acupuncture. Even without seeds, you can still practice auricular therapy at home by giving your ears a gentle massage, from bottom to top, once or twice a day for a quick pick-me-up.

That’s also a good way to get to know your ears and to check for lumps, scaly patches or other changes in your ear. While you’re at it, don’t forget the sunscreen if you are taking your ears outside in our beautiful Florida sunshine.

If you are pressed for time but still want to address your health issues, just lend an ear, and you just might find the relief you’re looking for.

Nicole Noles is an acupuncture physician at New Hope Chiropractic in Port Charlotte. She has bachelor’s degrees in alternative medicine and professional health sciences, with a master’s in traditional Chinese medicine. Email her at nnoles88@gmail.com.

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