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.
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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
- Reflux, nausea and stomach pain
- Bone and joint pain
- Asthma and allergies
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.