Expert Advice

Is acupuncture safe for children?

Acupuncture can be used alone or in conjunction with traditional Western medicine to help with common childhood ailments.

Is acupuncture safe for children?
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Acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment that can be used alone or in conjunction with traditional Western medicine to help with common childhood ailments and maintain optimum health.

Boost immunity Acupuncture can boost the immune system, which helps suppress ailments kids are prone to such as chronic ear infections, respiratory problems, asthma, and allergies.
Soothe stress Studies have shown acupuncture also influences brain chemistry by stimulating the release endorphins that can soothe stress and anxiety—and the problems (nightmares, bed-wetting, constipation, chronic stomach pain) that often come with it.
Ease into it Acupuncture can be used on children of any age, even newborns. Pediatric acupuncturists use 40-gauge needles—as thin as a human hair—which help ease any anxiety children may have about needles. They may also use a probe that attaches to an e-stim machine and stimulates the acupuncture point with impulses. Although not as strong as regular acupuncture, it can be a viable option for apprehensive kids (or parents). If your child is fearful, help him overcome his anxiety by allowing him to watch you get a treatment. Most children feel so relaxed and comfortable after their first experience (some practitioners begin with acupressure or massage before getting out the needles) that any phobias quickly vanish.
Choose carefully Acupuncture is not a one-time treatment, so choose an acupuncturist the way you would choose a pediatrician. Find out how much experience they have treating children and whether they’re comfortable working with the child’s regular pediatrician. Also discuss treatment goals and expectations. The number of sessions your child needs depends on his or her ailments and responsiveness to the treatment, but it can average from four to 10. (Many insurance plans now cover acupuncture.) Herbal remedies, given as small pills, tinctures, or decocted teas, also are often prescribed to complement treatments. —Ruth McCarty, M.S., L.Ac., Children’s Hospital of Orange County, California