Ear Pinning

Ear pinning is a type of otoplasty, surgery on the outer ear. It permanently draws ears closer to your head, minimizing ears that stick out and correcting imbalance or asymmetry. The procedure is usually performed by a plastic surgeon and involves general anesthesia. Recovery typically takes several weeks.


Before and after photographs of ear pinning surgery.
Before (left) and after (right) ear pinning surgery to bring the ears closer to the head.

What is ear pinning?

Ear pinning is plastic surgery to permanently bring your ears closer to your head. It’s an elective (optional) operation. A person might choose ear pinning to reduce the look of protruding ears and improve their appearance.

Ear pinning is a type of otoplasty — surgery to change the position, shape or size of your outer ear. Other types of otoplasty include surgery to:

  • Rebuild absent ear tissue.
  • Reduce the size of large ears.
  • Reshape ears that are misshapen or damaged.

The surgery is most common in children and teens, but some adults also choose to have the procedure.


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Who performs ear pinning?

A plastic surgeon usually performs ear pinning with assistance from a team that may include:

  • Anesthesiologist (specialist in preventing pain).
  • Nurses.

Providers usually perform ear pinning in an outpatient surgical center.

Procedure Details

What happens before otoplasty?

When you’re considering otoplasty, you need to consult with a plastic surgeon. At the appointment, you’ll discuss:

  • Why you want the procedure.
  • What you want to look like afterward (your expectations).
  • Your medical history, including any allergies, health issues and previous surgeries.
  • Any medications you’re currently taking, including prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, supplements and other drugs.

The surgeon will:

  • Take pictures of your face, head and ears.
  • Make recommendations for the surgical approach and anesthesia to prevent or control pain.
  • Give you an idea of what you might look like after surgery, sometimes, using special software.
  • Discuss the risks of surgery.
  • Ask you to sign a consent form if you decide to move forward.

How do I prepare for ear pinning?

Your healthcare provider will give you specific instructions about how to prepare for ear pinning. In the days before surgery, you may have to:

  • Get a physical exam or blood tests to ensure you’re healthy enough for surgery.
  • Stop smoking if applicable.
  • Stop taking certain medications (for example, drugs that thin the blood, such as aspirin).

What happens during ear pinning?

The entire procedure takes about two hours. You’ll most likely receive general anesthesia, which puts you to sleep so you don’t feel anything. The healthcare team:

  1. Inserts an IV, a needle in a vein in your arm to deliver anesthesia, pain medications and fluids.
  2. Places a tube down your throat to help you breathe.
  3. Monitors your vital signs the entire time, such as breathing and heart rate.

To perform ear pinning, the plastic surgeon:

  1. Makes one or more incisions on the back of your ear. (Sometimes, they make an incision on the front of your ear.)
  2. Uses the incisions to weaken or remove the skin or cartilage that’s making your ear stick out. This helps create a more defined fold in the back of your ear.
  3. Repositions your ear to the desired place.
  4. Sews your ear into place with permanent sutures (stitches).
  5. Repeats the process on the other side. Even if only one ear protrudes, the procedure usually involves both ears. This helps make them symmetrical.
  6. Applies sterile dressing and a compression bandage to the incisions. The bandages protect the incisions as they heal and hold your ears in the desired position during recovery.

What happens after this procedure?

After surgery, you slowly wake up from anesthesia. Your ears may feel uncomfortable, such as throbbing or itchy. You’ll receive medication to help manage the pain.

A healthcare provider removes the IV and tube in your throat. Your throat may feel sore for a little while afterward. You may feel drowsy or nauseated from the anesthesia.

It’s important to leave the ear bandages in place. They protect the wounds and help ensure the surgery achieves the desired effects.

Most people stay in a recovery room for a few hours after ear pinning. Healthcare providers will make sure you’re alert, breathing well and stable before you’re allowed to go home. You should have someone else drive you home so you can fully recover from the anesthesia.

Risks / Benefits

What are the advantages of ear pinning?

Ear pinning can create a more natural, symmetrical or balanced appearance. The cosmetic benefits can improve self-esteem and psychological well-being.

Any scars are small and hidden, usually behind your ears.

What are the risks or complications of this procedure?

Ear pinning is generally safe. But as with any surgery, there are risks of complications, including:

  • Allergic reaction to materials used during surgery or recovery.
  • Bleeding or blood clots.
  • Changes in the way skin looks or feels (for example, bumpy, discolored, scarred or slightly numb).
  • Infection of surgical wounds.
  • Pain.
  • Poor reaction to anesthesia, including trouble waking up.
  • Unsatisfactory results, such as asymmetrical ears, which may require follow-up surgery.

Recovery and Outlook

How long is recovery after ear pinning?

Your healthcare provider will talk to you about the recovery process. You may feel swollen, itchy or numb for a few days or weeks. Those symptoms usually go away with time.

Ear pinning bandages usually stay on for about a week. After that, you’ll be able to gently wash your face, ears and hair. Your surgeon will tell you how to care for the incisions and may recommend an antibiotic ointment to prevent infection. You may need a supportive, flexible headband to hold your ears in place for a few weeks, especially when you’re sleeping.

Most people fully recover in four to six weeks after ear pinning. Until your surgeon says it’s OK, you should avoid:

  • Contact sports.
  • Exposing the area to sunlight or tanning beds.
  • Heavy lifting.
  • Intense exercise.
  • Wearing earrings or glasses, including sunglasses.

Is ear pinning painful?

Ear pinning involves some pain, as does any surgery. But your healthcare team will talk to you about ways to reduce and manage pain.

When To Call the Doctor

When should I see my healthcare provider?

If you notice any signs of complications, call your healthcare provider:

  • Blood, fluid or pus coming from the incision site.
  • Chest pain.
  • Confusion or fainting.
  • Fever or chills.
  • Leg pain, redness or swelling, especially in your calf.
  • Pain that gets worse or doesn’t get better with pain medication.
  • Redness or swelling around your incisions.
  • Shortness of breath.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Ear pinning is an operation that permanently brings your ears closer to your head. If you want to correct protruding ears or asymmetry between your ears, talk to a plastic surgeon. They’ll help you understand the risks and benefits of surgery. Ear pinning can improve your appearance, self-esteem and psychological well-being.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/01/2023.

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