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  • Writer's pictureLuke Bynum DPT, OCS

Is that a needle in your ear?? “What, I can’t hear you. There’s a needle in my ear!”

I’ve said it before. The military is a cool place. You get to learn all kinds of new things and get to have all kinds of new experiences. It’s all fun and games until you get deployed for a year…but hey, at least you get to have new experiences, right?

One of those new experiences I got to “experience” on this deployment was getting certified in Battlefield Acupuncture. According to Dr. Niemtzow from this Military Times article, battlefield acupuncture, “involves a small needle inserted into the ear which has a “central effect” on the nervous system and the cingulate gyrus, an area of the brain that processes pain.” There is actually a decent amount of literature on the effectiveness of this type of intervention in the management of pain and anxiety, and anecdotally, providers see a significant amount of improvement even after one treatment. One of the hallmark studies for this type of auricular acupuncture was in 2006 by Goertz et al. You can find a link to that article here. Below is a summary:

“This pilot study used a randomized controlled clinical trial design to compare the effects of standard emergency medical care to auricular acupuncture plus standard emergency medical care in patients with acute pain syndromes. Eighty-seven active duty military personnel and their dependents with a diagnosis of acute pain completed the study, which was conducted in the emergency room (ER) at Malcolm Grow Medical Center, Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. The primary outcome measure was change in pain level from baseline, as measured by the Numerical Rating Scale. Participants in the acupuncture group experienced a 23% reduction in pain before leaving the ER, while average pain levels in participants in the standard medical care group remained basically unchanged. (p < 0.0005).”

HOWEVER, this article also states “both groups experienced a similar reduction in pain 24 hours following treatment in the ER.”

Regardless, I learned a new trick today and it was pretty cool. Ear (auricular) needles are different from the traditional needles we are used to using. They are needles that you press in with a special applicator and they have a literal “barb” on the end of them so they won’t fall out. Yep, you heard me…THEY STAY IN! Have a look at the pic below. It looks like something my brother would use for bow hunting.

Just like with any type of needling, knowing your anatomy is crucial…and I did not know my “ear anatomy!” If I learned it at some point in my life, I sure didn’t remember it. There was a tragus, anti-tragus, intertragus zone, apex, pinna, helix, root of helix, triangular fossa, and superior/inferior crus. You needle five specific areas in a specific order that includes the Cingulate Gyrus, Thalamus, Omega-2, Point Zero, and Shen Men. All of those areas are auricular acupoints.

It looks like this…yep, that is my ear and the other one looks just like it.

Of course, I won’t be able to do this in the civilian world and I won't be teaching this in our dry needling courses because this is 100% acupuncture and our practice acts specifically state we won’t stimulate any auricular structures…BUT, my military patients better watch out, because everybody bout to get some ear needles!!

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