Auricular acupuncture is effective for pain relief

Objectives: Auricular acupuncture (AA) is becoming increasingly common in primary care clinics, emergency departments and peri-operatively for pain relief. Over the last decade, since the last comprehensive reviews were published, the literature has expanded. In this scoping review, we seek to document the efficacy of auricular acupuncture in treating both acute and chronic pain, describe the mechanism of action of auricular acupuncture in treating pain, and discuss how auricular acupuncture has been integrated into Western medicine to date.

Methods: The authors performed a MEDLINE search inclusive of articles from 1966 to June 2023 including articles written in English identifying literature. We included human studies when more than 3 patients were included. 314 unique articles were identified and 152 were selected by title screen. After abstract review, 117 were chosen for full-text review. Following full-text review, 33 articles were excluded and 21 added from references, totaling 105 articles included in our scoping review.

Results: auricular acupuncture reduces pain severity in patients with both acute and chronic pain. The best studies in the acute settings have occurred in the peri-operative setting where sham auricular acupuncture is employed, multiple sessions of auricular acupuncture are given, and medication dosing is carefully monitored. In these cases, auricular acupuncture reduced pain and post-operative medications. In patients with chronic pain, multiple sessions of auricular acupuncture resulted not only in pain relief but also in improvements in function and disability. Literature suggests that auricular acupuncture works through multiple mechanisms with the most compelling data coupled to the autonomic nervous system and neuroendocrine system. Curriculums designed to teach auricular acupuncture and aid in implementation have been published.

Conclusion: auricular acupuncture is an accessible, effective means of pain relief. Auricular acupuncture is relatively straightforward to learn, and protocols and curriculums exist to teach health care professionals this valuable skill. 


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About Attilio

Doctor of Chinese medicine, acupuncture expert and author of My Fertility Guide and My Pregnancy Guide.

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