Acupuncture for kids?

By Morgan Sherburne • Published: June 1st, 2015
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

As acupuncture gains acceptance as a complement to modern medicine, doctors are finding that young patients may benefit from the practice, too.

But kids don’t have to worry about needles: Researchers say targeting acupuncture points using laser stimulation, electrical stimulation or gentle massage may also benefit young patients.

Chinese medicine believes acupuncture, the practice of inserting hair-thin needles at various points on the body, balances energy within the body. Western doctors tend to think the needles stimulate points in connective tissue, muscle and nerves. This may trigger blood flow and endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.

This stimulation may alter how electromagnetic signals are conducted, facilitate the release of endorphins, or call immune cells to a problematic area. Acupuncture might also affect the hypothalamus, which oversees part of the nervous system, and the hormone-producing pituitary gland. Both structures are located at the base of the brain.

At the Cleveland Clinic, physicians use acupuncture to help children and teenagers with health conditions such as brain injuries, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, bedwetting, asthma and sleep problems.

According to a review funded by the National Institutes of Health, acupuncture poses little risk for kids. The review recommends that needles should not be used in children who have overeaten, are overtired or weak, as well as in infants whose fontanels, the soft gaps between the cranial bones, have not yet closed. Nevertheless, the review found acupuncture to be a safe complement for treatment in pediatric patients and that the risks were on par with taking penicillin.

Just don’t mention the needles to the kids.