You’ve probably heard of traditional acupuncture, which uses small needles to stimulate points throughout your body, including your ears.

But there’s another type of acupuncture that focuses exclusively on your ears. It’s called auricular acupuncture. This is a type of auriculotherapy, which describes any acupressure or acupuncture treatment that’s limited to your ears.

Read on to learn more about the health issues auricular acupuncture may help with and how to try it.

How does it work?

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), acupuncture is based on the theory that your health depends on the flow of qi (energy) in your body. This energy travels along invisible pathways, known as meridians, that are found throughout the body.

According to TCM, a blocked or disrupted flow of qi can have a negative effect on your physical and mental health. Acupuncture aims to restore the flow of qi by resolving any blockages or disruption.

Traditional acupuncture does this by targeting points found throughout your body, including your ears.

What are the potential benefits?

People use auricular acupuncture to tackle a range of health concerns, including:

  • chronic pain, especially low back pain
  • migraine
  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • cancer pain and chemotherapy side effects
  • weight loss
  • substance use disorder
  • depression
  • digestive issues
  • allergies

Is there any research to back up its benefits?

There’s limited evidence that auricular acupuncture can treat health conditions on its own. However, there’s promising research suggesting it can be beneficial for a range of health conditions, especially when combined with other treatments.

Pain relief

2017 research review looked at 10 studies on auricular acupuncture for pain relief. The results of these studies suggest that auricular acupuncture can provide relief when used within 48 hours of pain onset.

Still, the authors emphasized the need for more high-quality research to support these findings.

Substance use disorder recovery

There’s also some evidence to support the use of auricular acupuncture for help with substance use disorder. A 2017 studyTrusted Source looked at 100 people in treatment programs who also received ear acupuncture.

Those who had at least two sessions of twice-weekly auricular acupuncture during treatment reported having an improved quality of life, increased energy, and less alcohol use after 3 and 6 months.

The participants were also more likely to find a job after leaving the treatment program, according to the study results.

How many points are there?

There are more than 200 acupuncture points in the ear.

In 1990, the World Health Organization (WHO) created a standardized list of 39 auricular points. Of these 39 standard points, 10 master points are often used in auricular acupuncture treatments.

Some of the most commonly used points in the ear include:

  • shenmen, also called “ear shenmen” to differentiate it from another point on your wrist
  • point zero
  • kidney
  • sympathetic

What should I expect from a session?

Acupuncture sessions may vary slightly from provider to provider. Some may use a combination of acupuncture points, while others might focus primarily on the master points.

But in general, a practitioner will start by going over the symptoms you want to address. They’ll likely ask you a few questions about your:

  • sleeping habits
  • past or current medical issues
  • mental health concerns
  • diet and digestion

If you’re having acupuncture done on your ear, you’ll likely spend the session in a seated position. But if you’re having other points stimulated, you may be asked to lie on your stomach, back, or side.

Next, the practitioner will being inserting needs. This may sting briefly, though some people don’t report feeling anything during the session.

With the needles inserted, you’ll sit or lie quietly for between 10 and 20 minutes. Finally, the needles will be removed, which is usually painless.

Is it safe to try?

When performed by a trained and experienced acupuncturist, acupuncture is fairly safe, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative HealthTrusted Source.

If acupuncture isn’t performed correctly or needles aren’t sterile, you may be at risk for serious side effects. Licensed acupuncturists in the United States must use disposable needles, so receiving acupuncture from a licensed professional should minimize your risk for complications.

Some people do experience mild side effects after an acupuncture session, such as:

  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • pain or tenderness around the involved areas

It’s also best to avoid acupuncture if you:

  • are pregnant, as some points can induce labor
  • have a pacemaker, which could be affected by the mild electric pulse that’s sometimes used with acupuncture needles
  • take blood thinners or have a bleeding disorder

The bottom line

Acupuncture in the ear is an alternative treatment that may help with common health issues, from chronic pain to digestion issues.

If you’re interested in trying alternative treatments or haven’t had much luck with other approaches, auricular acupuncture might be worth a try. Be sure to see a licensed acupuncturist.