Children are in general more susceptible to side effects of medicine than adults. Some children may even be allergic to certain drugs. While medication raises these concerns, acupuncture can work as a safer alternative treatment for children’s illnesses.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has approved the use of acupuncture on children after looking into 37 studies of acupuncture on children from birth to age 17. It published a report in the Nov. 21 issue of the journal Pediatrics, stating that acupuncture is “generally safe for children when performed by appropriately trained practitioners.”
Although there were adverse events from acupuncture in some of the 37 studies, researchers found them to be all related to substandard conditions of the equipment or the acupuncturist’s lack of proficiency. None of the side effects such as bruising, bleeding, infections, and worsening of symptoms after treatment came from acupuncture’s technique itself.Therefore, the Academy recommends doctors to seek information on acupuncture when families express interest, evaluate them on their scientific merits and advise parents accordingly.
Various sources indicate that a growing number of families are choosing acupuncture for their children. The US federal government’s National Health Interview Survey last asked about acupuncture in 2007. The survey estimated that about 150,000 American children were receiving acupuncture annually for pain, migraine, and anxiety. The number probably has risen since then. According to a Washington Post article of September 10, 2012, at least a third of US pain centers for children offer acupuncture alongside conventional treatments.
Acupuncture can do a lot more than pain relief, however. The Washington Post article mentioned above quotes Dr. Stephen Cowan, a New York pediatrician who is also a certified acupuncturist, saying acupuncture can be extremely helpful for such chronic or difficult-to-treat problems as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and asthma.
Furthermore, a 2008 review of studies published in the Journal of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology cited evidence that acupuncture is effective for preventing nausea after surgery in children.
In Silicon Valley, Dr. Ching Chi, a certified acupuncturist with a Ph.D in traditional Chinese medicine, uses hair-thin needles to treat all kinds of common diseases in children including the common cold, the flu, asthma, sinusitis, ear infections, fever, indigestion, diarrhea, and allergies.
According to Dr. Chi, acupuncture can help relieve all these common illnesses because it will stimulate the child patient’s immune system to fight off germs and viruses, or calm the overactive immune system in the cases of allergic reactions to anything. Acupuncture promotes the immune system’s optimal functions by moving qi, the energy that circulates the entire body through meridians.
In traditional Chinese medicine, it is believed that qi must be blocked somewhere in the system when diseases occur. As soon as acupuncture unblocks the stagnated qi and gets it to flow again, it will recharge cells to normalize the problem areas of the body.
The concept of qi and meridians may not seem credible to many Westerners because, unlike blood vessels, the so-called meridians are invisible. Anatomy cannot locate them. However, two French researchers, Drs. Claude Darras and Pierre De Vernejoul, have scientifically proven the existence of meridians.
In the 1980s, the two researchers tried to locate the meridians anatomically by injecting radioactive isotopes into acupuncture points of human subjects. After injecting a solution of an ionic salt of technetium, they used a gamma ray camera to trace the solution. Then they discovered that the radioactive technetium followed the exact same pathways of the meridian channels illustrated in acupuncture charts. To differentiate the meridians from blood vessels or lymphatic channels, there was a control group of people who received technetium injections adjacent to non-acupoint skin regions as well as in nearby blood and lymphatic channels. In these subjects, the radioactive tracers ended up diffusing outward from the injection site into a small circular pattern.
The scientific experiments have demonstrated that stimulating acupoints indeed creates energy flows which enter the body. These energy flows will push the stagnated qi in the body to move, to help the body combat infections, repair itself or relieve overreactions. Based on this concept, it is logical to infer that acupuncture must work well for children, whose young cells regenerate faster than those of adults.
Clinically, this appears to be the case as well. Dr. Chi said, “Acupuncture usually works very fast in children, often faster than in adults.”
When more and more parents are willing to have their children try acupuncture, one of the most frequently asked questions is how to talk the children into it. As small children are often seen crying in the hospital during vaccination, convincing them to accept acupuncture definitely could be challenging.
However, this is not a problem at all to Dr. Chi, who has made countless children smile during their acupuncture sessions. With their parents’ consent, she has taken photos of child patients smiling with needles inserted into their scalp.
How does she make that happen?
“I started with my own kids. They were used to seeing the needles, so they were not so afraid,” said Dr. Chi, a mother of two. “Then I showed the pictures of them receiving acupuncture to my child patients, telling them other kids have had it done without fear so they must be just as brave.”
“Sometimes I inert a needle into my own forehead and tell them it doesn’t hurt,” Dr. Chi added. “Sometimes I quickly insert a needle into their scalp before they realize it, and then tell them one needle is already in. Then they will believe it really doesn’t hurt.”
According to Dr. Chi, her child patients are usually children of her adult patients who have recovered after receiving her acupuncture treatment. “These patients believe acupuncture is better for their children than antibiotics,” said Dr. Chi. “It’s true that acupuncture doesn’t have the side effects of antibiotics, and can be more effective sometimes, especially in terms of chronic conditions.”
Dr. Chi said she is happy to see the number of her child patients increasing. In her opinion, more children receiving acupuncture will lead to better health in the next generation.
The information provided in this article is designed to help readers better understand the way acupuncture works on children. None of the information should be construed as or is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment.
Written by Crystal Tai
Edited by Dr. Ching Ching Chi