Introduction to Auriculotherapy

The field of auriculotherapy can be traced back several thousand years to ancient Chinese medical texts, but was modified in more recent times by the pioneering work of the French physician Dr. Paul Nogier in the 1950’s. Dr. Nogier and his colleagues demonstrated that specific areas of the external ear were associated with pain or pathology in specific parts of the body. Dr. Nogier’s findings were verified by research done by Dr. Terry Oleson and colleagues at the UCLA Pain Management Center in the 1980s. Auriculotherapy is based on the idea that the ear is a micro system which reflects the entire body represented on the auricle (the outer portion of the ear).

Inverted Fetus Image

Auricular reflex points are arranged like an inverted fetus or upside down body, with the head represented on the ear lobe, the feet towards the top of the ear, and the rest of the body in between. These reflex points can be stimulated to alleviate pathological conditions in other parts of the body. Stimulation can include needling, electrotherapy, or both.


Auricular acupuncture first came to modern medical attention for its efficacy in the treatment of pain, notably sciatic pain. It has since been applied clinically in patients with many painful conditions. Any orthopedic pain condition (neck, back, shoulder, ankle, knee pain ) can be treated via auriculotherapy. It is especially useful to relieve the facial pain including headaches, migraines and temperomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ). Neurological conditions which respond well to auriculotherapy include trigeminal neuralgia, vagus nerve disturbance, vertigo and dizziness.

Many points in the ear are associated with regulating chronic inflammation and have been used in the treatment of arthritis, rheumatoid disease, and inflammatory bowel conditions.

Point-o-select Electro Device

In my clinic, I use a special instrument for point location and treatment: the EAM Special Edition Point-O-Select Digital with Needle Stimulator. This helps me as a clinician to accurately identify the auricular points in the ear that target areas of pain or imbalance. The unit “finds” the correct treatment point by measuring the electrical resistance and activity of the body. For example, a patient comes in seeking help for neck pain or cervicalgia. I use the point probe along the area of the ear which represents the cervical vertebrae (and the associated cervical nerve ganglion) to identify the exact area of imbalance. Then, I can treat that area of the neck by using a fine filiform needle with or without electrostimulation (usually painless). Based upon the work of Dr. Nogier, there are specific treatment frequencies (designated in Hz) that are used to obtain optimal results.

Other Indications

Besides pain conditions, auriculotherapy can also be used for insomnia, allergies, and other chronic disease and functional disorders related to internal conditions associated with the lungs and respiratory system, liver/gallbladder, kidney/urogenital systems and other digestive disorders,. It is also useful to regulate endocrine system disorders (such as those related to adrenal, thyroid, prostate, and ovary).

One reason why auriculotherapy may benefit patients with sleep disorders—in addition to other neurologic conditions—resides in the unique innervation of the auricle of the ear. Acupuncture stimulation of the auricle of the ear could affect the balance of sympathetic and parasympathetic tone (via the reticular formation) among other central nervous system pathways. By promoting parasympathetic tone in patients with insomnia, for instance, sleep onset and maintenance could be favored. Balancing the autonomic nervous system can also be used to regulate blood pressure in the case of hypertension.

Auriculotherapy is especially useful to calm the mind during periods of mental and emotional stress. It can be an adjunctive therapy in the treatment of anxiety, depression, nervousness, irritability, and any condition which worsens with stress. There are special auricular points which correspond directly to the area of the limbic system of the brain which processes all emotional stressors to the hypothalamus and pituitary glands: this, in turn, regulates the entire endocrine and autonomic nervous systems.

Acupuncture Detox and Recovery

Ear acupuncture has a long history of use for withdrawal syndrome and recovery from alcohol and other drug addictions. (see NADA for information on the National Acupuncture Detox Association). For 6 years, I worked in this field in conjunction with social service agencies using ear acupuncture to treat inmates at the Santa Clara County jails, as well as participants in early release programs, outpatient programs and perinatal clinics that addressed substance abuse. (I do not treat acute withdrawal or drug detoxification in my private clinic).