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I just returned from the International Conference on Acupuncture that was held in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. The vast array of topics discussed was presented by the renowned Raphael Nogier, MD, who is the son of Dr. Paul Nogier. Dr. Nogier was the inventor of auricular therapy, with its beginnings and ear-mapping dating back as early as 1951. People travel from all over the globe to Lyon, France to Dr. Nogier for his miraculous healing. The conference was attended by acupuncturists from around the world. People flew in from as far as Germany or came from as close as Baltimore.

Along with the amazing topics discussed and the case histories reviewed, my favorite part of attending and participating in these types of conferences is the sharing that goes on. There is a common language among acupuncturists and healers of traditional Chinese medicine. What has always struck me as special is that the primary goal of everyone in attendance is to seek improvement for their patients. Additionally, acupuncturists overall thoroughly love what they do for a living. It is an extraordinary feeling to be in a room where people want to share and exchange ideas on the innovative methods they have found successful, as well as seek help for the cases that most challenge them.

Holistic medicine deals with the individual and is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Thus there are many roads that may lead to healing and there is not only one correct approach for a patient.

Auricular therapy is one approach that I incorporate daily in my practice. The ear is a microcosm of the whole body. You can treat any and all medical concerns using the ear alone! In my office, the auricular chart that I have hanging is a favorite topic of conversation among many of my patients. They cannot get over how everything–from sciatic back pain to asthma to depression–has a corresponding point on the ear. They also are amazed at the number of points located on the small ear and how difficult it must be to accurately identify the particular points.

I often explain that some points are palpated for eliciting pain in order to confirm the accuracy of the point location. Others are tested with an electric point device. In both scenarios, understanding the anatomy and physiology and history from the patient is what is behind the proper point identification.

Auricular therapy is unique in its own right. The vasculature of the ear is primarily cartilage. It is the most complex area of the body with regard to innervation. It is because of this that the ear has such powerful effects. This includes the parasympathetic as well as the sympathetic nervous systems. On the tragus or flap that covers the inner ear, one can also find both the facial and glossopharyngeal nerves. Here alone one can tap into cranial nerves 1, 2, and 3. This is the only place on the body with such an extensive reach. This helps explain the success of treating such a multitude of disorders.

An example of the use of auricular therapy on a daily basis is with those patients who have high anxiety and stress. There are points on the ear that correlate to the brain and nervous system that immediately have an effect to calm and sedate. Shenmen, otherwise known as Neurogate, is one of the points I most often utilize. I can feel the effects just seconds after I needle this point. The patient’s breathing slows down, or they may close their eyes as they visibly begin to relax. My patients tell me they feel like they have had a mini vacation after a treatment, and that their treatments are the highlight of their week.

Early on in my practice, a new patient came into my office. She was a woman in her mid-sixties who was in pretty good health. She exercised, ate healthy, and had few general complaints. However, she had been suffering with excruciating pain in her right foot that was concentrated between her ankle and heel. The pain was indescribable. On a scale from 1 to 10, she said her pain was at 100. She had already had X-rays, MRIs, and various other scans. Everything appeared completely normal, yet her pain persisted. Numerous specialists told her to simply stay off her foot until it resolved itself.

This was very frustrating for her, and after many months with no apparent changes in sight, a friend of hers convinced her to try acupuncture. To be honest, I couldn’t figure out a connection in her particular case. I really had no idea what was causing her pain. This is rare for me, as I love the challenge of putting all the information together. This is an integral part of a proper diagnosis and treatment plan and of key importance to achieving optimal pain relief for my patients.

Not knowing where to begin, I decided to start with the ear. Simply inverting and using the back of a needle, I began to palpate the area on the ear that corresponds to the heel as well as the point that corresponds to the ankle. I asked my patient which one was more sensitive as I went along–point 1 or 2, or 2 or 3. This went on for a few seconds until I found the area of greatest sensitivity. I needled the point. My patient gave an audible sigh–not of pain but of release–immediately upon the insertion of the needle. Within 30 seconds she said to me, “My pain is gone!”

It was truly a moment for me when I recognized the power of auricular therapy. I then went on to treat the patient with a few needles inserted into various body points to help nourish and support as I wanted to make sure her pain did not return. It did not. Not only did she begin coming in for weekly acupuncture treatments, but she sent her sister and her family as well. She couldn’t get over the power of one needle with regard to her mysterious yet complete pain relief. She said, “I can only imagine what it would do for my immunity.”

Auricular therapy began after Dr. Nogier noticed a correlation on the ear with a particular patient’s illness. He continued his research over the course of his entire life using strict methodology, continual experimental proof, and practice to determine unequivocally what worked. He was successful in treating thousands of people, and his teachings have gone on to help multitudes.

Whether traveling to attend an acupuncture conference or researching for my patients, I always strive to learn more and push myself to advocate the best approach for my patients. I believe wholeheartedly that we never stop learning, and every situation is an opportunity for growth. Achieving optimal health is a journey. It is a journey that I am grateful to help my patients along.