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Children’s Health | Wellness
Child receiving acupuncture

Acupuncture for Kids

A surprisingly effective choice

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Acupuncture has surprising advantages for kids with health problems. One of the biggest? Few side effects. “A lot of kids are medication-sensitive, and acupuncture doesn’t have the side effects of medication,” explains Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist Benjamin Katholi, MD.

Another advantage is fewer doctor visits. “We can address multiple symptoms in a single treatment just by different point selection,” says Dr. Katholi.

More than a pain reliever

Acupuncture’s use in children and adolescents has mirrored the technique’s rising popularity among adults. A study of 450 children from birth to age 17 who had acupuncture found the technique to be safe in the hands of well-trained practitioners.

Many think acupuncture is just for pain. It can encourage the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. But acupuncture helps children and teens with a wide range of issues, including:

  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Reflux, nausea and stomach pain
  • Bone and joint pain
  • ADHD
  • Asthma and allergies
  • Bedwetting
  • Drooling

Getting to the point

In acupuncture, local, regional or global (body-wide) points are selected to achieve different effects. “You can stimulate some of these points or you can calm them in order to reduce certain symptoms,” says Dr. Katholi.

This is done by:

  • Gently inserting needles
  • Using laser stimulation
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Acupressure (gentle massage of points)

One step at a time

If children are reluctant to try needles, Dr. Katholi is careful to explain that acupuncture needles are different from the needles used to draw blood. They are hair-thin and nearly painless.

“We can introduce acupressure as the first option for things that might be too painful or anxiety-provoking,” he says. Dr. Katholi actually teaches kids acupressure therapies they can use on themselves at home.

Laser acupuncture can help children who are extremely sensitive to needles. “When things calm down a little bit, we can introduce needles for greater effect,” Dr. Katholi says.

A complementary treatment

Acupuncture doesn’t replace traditional medical treatment, says Dr. Katholi. “Acupuncture can’t treat everything; if you have diabetes, you still need insulin. If you have seizures, you still need epilepsy medications. So there’s a place for both.”

He finds acupuncture especially helpful in treating children and teens with complex conditions such as brain injuries or chronic pain. “Using acupuncture has been very rewarding,” says Dr. Katholi. 

Tags: acupuncture, Be Well e-News, integrative medicine
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  • Carl Bartecchi, M.D.

    Acupuncture on kids, to me, is malpractice.

    • shay simmons

      I completely agree. As a veteran, I find it shocking and appalling that the military medical system is actually offering something called “battlefield acupuncture.”

      If only I could believe that this is a euphemism for bayonet practice….

  • lilady R.N.

    You wouldn’t happen to have some studies about the effectiveness of using acupuncture on children, would you?

    How about the *theory* behind acupuncture which uses “meridian markers” on the human body to determine where to place those needles…for the purpose of encouraging the flow of “Qi”?

    Dr. Katholi, have you taken leave of your senses and forgotten your medical ethics to “do no harm”? Shame on you for encouraging vulnerable credulous parents to agree to this quack abusive practice.

  • http://profiles.google.com/chrisphickie Christopher Hickie

    I have a problem when someone says there are no side effects to any treatment penetrates dermal layers: http://cid.oxfordjournals.org/content/43/1/e6.full

    Here the side effects required IV antibiotics in addition to insulin.

    • lilady R.N.

      How about this Reuters article…


      ” Former South Korean president Roh Tae-woo was admitted to hospital with a bad cough and ended up on the operating table to remove an acupuncture needle from his right lung.

      Local media reports said Roh,
      78, was released from Seoul National University Hospital on Monday after
      surgery to remove the 6.5 cm needle.

      are puzzled how the needle ended up in his lung, and acupuncturists say
      that none of their procedures involved penetrating the lung.

      “I can’t figure out how the needle got into there,” Dr Sung Myung-whun was
      quoted as telling reporters at the hospital after the operation. “It is
      a mystery for me, too.”

      The acupuncturist must have gotten the “meridians” mixed up.

  • Johnny

    I’m wondering what an infectious disease doctor would think about all those needles being handled with bare hands. I suspect that most acupuncturist don’t believe in germ theory.

    • lilady R.N.

      I’m still waiting for Dr. Katholi to pony up studies about acupuncture as *treatment* for children who have these disorder/symptoms…

      “Many think acupuncture is just for pain. It can encourage the release of
      endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. But acupuncture helps
      children and teens with a wide range of issues, including:

      Sleep problems




      Reflux, nausea and stomach pain

      Bone and joint pain


      Asthma and allergies


      And this, memorable quote…

      “He finds acupuncture especially helpful in treating children and teens with
      complex conditions such as brain injuries or chronic pain. “Using
      acupuncture has been very rewarding,” says Dr. Katholi.”

      What quackery is this…masquerading as evidence-based medicine…at a respected hospital?

    • Health Hub Team

      Dear Johnny,

      We utilize sterile single-use acupuncture needles and clean technique meaning that points treated are cleansed with alcohol prior to treatment.

      Ben Katholi, MD

      • Johnny

        And the bare hands are bare, yes?

        • Teresa

          No. I, and many other acupuncturists, use sterile surgical gloves. Also, please note there are acupuncture techniques that do not use needles. Electro-acupuncture, laser stimulation, acupressure – all of which are suitable for children in place of needles, just more time consuming as with needles you can address multiple points at once.

  • http://twitter.com/Blackmoon1010 Michelle

    Might not have the side-effect of medication, but would have the side-effects of placing needles and in acupuncture, these can be deliberately placed near or over vulnerable sites which can lead to complications like pneumothorax. This is on top of other complications that can occur as a result of penetrating the skin, such as infection. Children are vulnerable and require special care to ensure their needs are met, rather than simply assertions that acupuncture can be used in a grab-bag of disparate conditions before going ahead (and worse, overriding any discomfort the child might have with needles or that they may find their condition such as pain under-treated) and dispensing with treatments and therapies that have a good base of evidence and are grounded in the known anatomy and physiology of the body.

    • lilady R.N.

      I’m still waiting for Dr. Katholi to reply to my prior posts. Where, oh where, are those meridians on the human body and how does needling a little kid encourage the flow of “Qi”?

  • Johnny

    Instead of needles and electricity, why not use transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation?

    • lilady R.N.

      Why would any reputable physician subject a child to any “alternative” *therapy*…without any proof in the form of studies published in first-tier, peer reviewed medical journals that the therapy has proven to be effective for the variety of disorders/symptoms that Dr. Katholi *claims* is effective for?

  • Health Hub Team

    Thanks for your comments. I see from your posting that you are a health care professional. Regarding your question of whether there have been any pediatric-focused studies of acupuncture, I have compiled a list of recent publications: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/myncbi/collections/public/1jIcBFSrbQBXBvpgxNnAh9uQr/?sort=date&direction=ascending.

    There are approximately 190 pediatric-focused acupuncture articles on PubMed currently. Outside of PubMed, there are many more. There are quality studies currently from the United States, Germany and France. If you are interested in current studies in the United States, you can search for examples on http://www.clinicaltrials.gov

    To answer your question regarding “Qi,” I agree with you that the function of it is not
    completely understood. Essentially, traditional Chinese medicine is a way of
    understanding and looking at the human function that is outside of the normal
    scope of Western medicine. Consider this: We believe in magnets and use them
    daily. We cannot “see” how they function, yet we can appreciate their effects. I agree that further research is needed to explain how acupuncture functions and how it affects the body. For example a recent study utilized radio-opaque dye to localize several meridian points. Another study utilizing auricular (ear) acupuncture studied changes to the CNS on functional MRI. Effects of acupuncture have been demonstrated to release naturally occurring endorphins, which can be blocked by IV administration of Naloxone. There was recently a publication from Sloan-Kettering medical center of 18,000 patients utilizing acupuncture; results showed benefits in areas including chronic neck and back pain, osteoarthritis, shoulder pain and headache. As you can see, there is growing Western evidence for Eastern medicine.

    To the point, it is only through an open mind, and careful critical evaluation of the evidence, that we provide this type of treatment to pediatric patients.

    Ben Katholi, MD

  • Joanna

    I did an acupuncture internship at Boston Medical Center in pediatrics. It seems true that if you want to know if acupuncture works, watch how kids respond. Most kids were up for it and asked for it again. Weary parents also appreciated a treatment.