Ear Seeds: Do They Really Provide Pain Relief?

Orthopaedic & Spine Center
Dr. Jenny Andrus

Jenny L. F. Andrus, MD

From being covered in a feature on popular morning TV show Good Morning America, to headline articles in Health and Elle Magazine, to an on-line physician review on WebMD, to a fawning review on Goop, to being offered for sale on Amazon, Walmart and other mega-E-tailers, Ear Seeds are THE trendy new remedy for just about anything that ails you.  In this article, I will discuss them and what the research shows about their efficacy for a variety of conditions.

As an Interventional Pain Management Physician, I get asked about many different types of alternative therapies for pain.  My philosophy typically is that if it isn’t harmful to the patient in any way and brings them relief, I don’t have a problem with them trying it, with cautionary caveats.  I certainly want the patient to discuss the treatment with me first before trying it, to get my approval first and to be kept informed of the results, positive or negative. So, let’s discuss Ear Seeds, what we know about them and the illnesses they supposedly can treat.

Ear seeds are tiny ceramic, metal or actual vaccaria herb seeds that are placed on certain acupuncture or acupressure points on the ear.  They are held in place by waterproof tape for about a week after application.  The patient then rubs or massages these seeds in a circular motion several times a day in order to stimulate these points on the ear, which are supposed to promote healing, comfort and relaxation.  Promotors of Ear Seeds say that endorphins are released during the massage of the pressure points, which are our natural “feel-good” chemicals.  While they are not sold as a cure for anything, used alone or in conjunction with acupuncture, they can be an adjunct therapy for:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Lower Back Pain
  • Depression
  • Pain, numbness, tingling
  • Trauma
  • Substance Abuse
  • Weight loss

This treatment is called auriculotherapy, which is a traditional type of Chinese medicine technique that focuses on the ear.  Although, this is the widely used talking point, some researchers debate this and say a French neurologist discovered ear acupuncture in 1957 watching an ear cauterization procedure and thought the ear resembled an inverted fetus. The theory just gets more bizarre from there, but the end result is that, as in reflexology of the foot, the ear contains points that relate to every part of the body.  Therefore, if the right part of the ear is stimulated, the afflicted body part will heal.

The risks of using ear seeds are sleepiness, dizziness, infection, minor bleeding and skin irritation around the seeds.  We don’t have much scientific data or research on their use, except for a minor study that found ear seeds helped people tolerate pain better. 

 

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