NEW YORK CITY (SBG) - When I injured my lower back earlier this year, I found the most relief not through heating patches or Advil but through an acupuncture appointment that I had booked as a last-ditch effort. After the first appointment, I noticed a measurable difference in how I was feeling. By the end of the second appointment, my pain had disappeared. While it was likely a combination of acupuncture, time, and all of the other methods I tried that helped me to heal, I sang the praises of the traditional Chinese medicine practice to everyone that I knew.
A few months later, my mom and I were headed to a surprise spa appointment that I had scheduled for her as a Mother’s Day present, and she turned to me and said, “This better not be acupuncture.” It wasn’t; I knew better than to take my very needle-adverse mom to an acupuncturist. At the same time, however, I wished that there was a way for her to experience the same benefits that I had felt during my own experiences, just without any of the needles.
Luckily for anyone who feels similarly to my mom when it comes to pointy objects, traditional Chinese medicine extends far beyond acupuncture. A solution to those fears might exist in a relatively new treatment known as ear seeds, which accomplishes similar results through tiny “seeds” adhered to certain points on the ears. And even if acupuncture is a regular part of your wellness routine, ear seeds still have the potential to add an additional layer to your healing regimen.
At Align Acupuncture in New York City, Dr. Aimée Derbes offers a number of different healing practices, ranging from acupuncture to breathwork, in a thoughtfully-designed studio flooded with natural sunlight. If you’re looking to try ear seeds, this is the place to be.
“I am one of those people, like a lot of acupuncturists, who had such a powerful experience of it in my own healing journey that it eventually felt like the right thing to do was to learn more about it, so that I could offer others that same experience,” said Derbes.
Following that revelation, Derbes enrolled in acupuncture school, where she began to explore many different modalities. “You learn so much [during acupuncture school] that, eventually, you just start gravitating towards what feels like it has a resonance with you and with the people you’re seeing,” she said.
For Derbes, her initial exposure to ear seeds and auriculotherapy sparked a longstanding interest, reflected in both her own self-care habits and in the services that she offers to her patients.
“All parts of the whole body are represented just on the ear,” explained Derbes.
In auriculotherapy, the ear is seen as a microsystem, or a map for the entire body, with hundreds of acupuncture points that correspond to every organ, hormone, and system. These points can be stimulated with needles, or you can simply apply pressure to the relevant points. The ear seeds are designed to apply a constant pressure on the surface of the skin that “gets things moving.”
A French neurologist by the name of Dr. Paul Nogier is widely regarded as the father of auriculotherapy. In his attempts to find physical therapies to replace the usage of chemical drugs, he encountered a patient who received relief from sciatic pain when hot needles were applied to the external ear. Nogier began to explore why this would be the case, ultimately developing a system, in collaboration with a group of medical colleagues, that matched points on the ear to well-defined parts of the body.
His work was then further studied in China through an assessment of over 2000 clinical patients, leading to an ear chart that closely resembled that of Nogier.
Each ear seed appointment at Align Acupuncture begins with a consultation to determine exactly what someone is hoping to get out of their treatment. With her practice based in the city that never sleeps, Derbes finds that many of her patients are looking for assistance in dealing with a busy, high-pressure lifestyle. “Things that are a particularly good match for ear seeds are pain, stress and anxiety, headaches and migraines, issues with blood circulation and blood pressure as well,” she said.
Once a person’s goals have been determined, the specifics of the appointment can vary. Some people may need just a single ear seed, while others could benefit from up to ten. Although the application is always a quick and simple process, the exact duration of the appointment is tied to the number of seeds that Derbes applies. There’s also the option to receive the seeds in combination with one or more additional modalities for a more involved session.
“A lot of things in East Asian medicine are dependent on the person and what their needs are,” Derbes said.
The ear seeds can stay on the ears for anywhere from one to seven days, with the adhesive strong enough to last through showers, exercise, and sleep. They’re so tiny that others might not even notice that you’re wearing them, but they can also be fairly stylish, resembling small pieces of jewelry and possibly even influencing your next piercing. Derbes uses gold-plated seeds, which are as useful as they are beautiful; the gold is seen as a particularly strengthening material.
Without any specific physical ailments of my own at the time of my appointment, I asked Derbes for seeds that would improve my general health, as well as something for stress reduction. As I relaxed on her heated BioMat crystal bed, she applied five seeds per ear. Before sending me on my way, she recommended that I put additional pressure on the seeds with my fingertips whenever I felt like I could use higher levels of their healing properties.
I was most surprised by the fact that I was constantly aware of the seeds’ presence on my ear, even when I wasn’t pressing on them. My expectation was that I’d forget that the tiny seeds were even there, but this was far from the reality of the situation, as I could feel a consistent level of pressure on my ears as I went about my day. At one point, I inadvertently tried to pull off one of the seeds but quickly realized my mistake before I had affected the adhesive.
So does it work?
If you’re looking at auriculotherapy from a strictly scientific perspective, there admittedly isn’t any conclusive evidence that it does. Some studies have shown significant reduction in pain levels associated with the treatment; others haven’t replicated those results. The same is true for experiments dealing with stress and anxiety. Many of the studies simply suggest that further trials are needed to determine its effectiveness and credibility.
But when it comes to personal testimonials, the practice has had a positive effect on the lives of many since it was first introduced in the late 1950s, and the system of East Asian medicine that auriculotherapy is rooted in has stood the test of time. Seeing the passion of those like Derbes who have put so much of their time and energy into studying auriculotherapy offers further encouragement to approach it with an open mind.
At the very least, there are no true drawbacks to the treatment, which is low-cost, low-commitment, and low-effort. If you’re interested in giving it a try, you can even apply the seeds on your own from the comfort of your home. To help spread her knowledge, Derbes wrote an instructional book about ear seeds called “SEED HEAL NOW,” which provides all of the information that someone would need to address their symptoms with the seeds.
“You don’t need an acupuncture license or any knowledge about East Asian medicine to use these,” she said. “It can be pretty simple to select a few points, apply them, and be on your way.”