Percutaneous auricular nerve stimulation (neuromodulation) for the treatment of pain: A proof-of-concept case report using total joint arthroplasty as a surrogate for battlefield trauma

J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2022 Aug 1;93(2S Suppl 1):S165-S168. doi: 10.1097/TA.0000000000003706. Epub 2022 May 21.


Background: There are few effective pain treatments following trauma on the battlefield other than opioids, which are limited by respiratory depression. Ultrasound-guided percutaneous peripheral nerve stimulation ("neuromodulation") has been proposed as an analgesic, but requires physician-level skills, advanced equipment, and an hour to administer. In contrast, percutaneous auricular neuromodulation may be placed by a medic in the field under nonsterile conditions in a few minutes, theoretically provides analgesia for any anatomic location, has no side effects, and no significant risks. It therefore offers the potential to be applied quickly on the battlefield without any of the limitations of opioids. We propose total joint replacement as a surrogate for battlefield trauma and here present a case report to demonstrate proof of concept.

Methods: Following open total knee or hip arthroplasty under spinal anesthesia, two patients had an auricular neuromodulation device applied within the recovery room. Patients were discharged with the unit and contacted daily for 7 days.

Results: The devices were each applied in under 3 minutes without difficulty, were well tolerated during use, and removed without complication at home on Day 5. During use, neither patient experienced pain while lying, sitting, or ambulating. Neither required analgesics other than scheduled celecoxib; and a single tablet (50 mg) of tramadol for one patient on postoperative Days 3 and 4 for pain while lowering herself to a seated position. On Days 6 and 7, both patients experienced an increase in pain, one of whom required around-the-clock tramadol.

Conclusion: Ambulatory postoperative percutaneous auricular neuromodulation is feasible. In these two cases, it appears to have markedly reduced pain scores and opioid requirements free of systemic side effects during the week following major orthopedic surgery. Considering the potential of this modality to treat trauma on the battlefield without systemic side effects, additional investigation appears warranted.

Level of evidence: Therapeutic/care management; Level V.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Arthroplasty, Replacement, Hip* / adverse effects
  • Arthroplasty, Replacement, Knee* / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain, Postoperative / drug therapy
  • Tramadol* / therapeutic use


  • Analgesics
  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Tramadol