Acupuncture and Children

Recent research reports have verified that Acupuncture is a very effective approach for treating children in pain. A recent study completed by Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital in Boston(1) found that two-thirds of children treated with Acupuncture reported improvement in pain symptoms.

A most common question I get from concerned parents is: Will Acupuncture be painful for my child? Invariably, parents and their children tend to think that Acupuncture needles are going to feel the same as a shot at the doctor’s office. Nothing could be further from the truth, in fact, results of the Harvard study showed that two-thirds of the children described the Acupuncture treatment as pleasant.

Acupuncture and Children

Acupuncture needles are extremely fine and with quick insertion, children rarely feel anything more than a slight sting. Most all parents agree that seeing their children pain free without the side-effects of common pain management drugs is worth the initial nervousness a child might experience when they come in for their first treatment.

When a child comes into the clinic for the first time, the competent practitioner of Chinese Medicine will first establish a trust and rapport with the child, putting them at ease. After the child is relaxed and comfortable on the massage table, a small number of the finest children’s needles will be inserted relatively superficially. After the first insertion the child will know what to expect and will feel reassured, assuming the practitioner is competent. After maybe five minutes the body’s endogenous opiod like chemicals, called endorphins, will be released. Endorphins and ekaphalins are responsible, from a biochemical perspective, for the pleasurable and relaxing sensations child experiences.

It is very interesting to note that in the study done at Children’s Hospital in Boston, researchers found that in addition to a reduction in pain levels, children also reported an overall improvement in well-being, increased attendance at school and improved sleep patterns. In fact, we see this very often in our clinic, children come in for pain but end up improving in many other significant ways.

To the ancient Chinese physicians who discovered the art and science of energetic medicine, all forms of pain were understood as a blockage in either the biological life force called qi (pronounced chee) or in the blood. A metaphor I often use to explain this phenomenon to patients is the garden hose analogy. Imagine you are watering your garden when you realize there is a kink in the hose. Suddenly, the life-giving water is unable to pass from the hose to the plants. If the plants don’t receive the nourishment of the water, the garden will wither and die. Our entire body is similar to the garden. When energy (nervous system and micro-currents) and blood flows easily without blockage throughout the body, all the tissues and the internal organs receive their proper nutrition. If there is a blockage, a patient will often experience this as pain. Pain is a warning signal alerting the practitioner that energy or blood is impeded. If that blockage can be removed, then the pain will cease.

Parents who understand this aspect of Chinese Medicine can utilize it very simply by practicing massage on their children. In fact, in China, massage is an extremely common method for treating a wide variety of children’s diseases. Chinese Massage, called Tui Na has been utilized in Pediatrics for over a thousand years in China.


Simple massage for children:

I will share a simple technique that can be utilized effectively with infants, adolescents or adults who have either constipation or diarrhea. With the patient on their back massage the abdomen in a clockwise manner for constipation because in this way you are following the path of the large intestine as it ascends, transverses and descends to the anus. For a small child you can massage in this manner at least one hundred cycles to help stimulate the large intestine to release the stool. For diarrhea, massage counter-clockwise to go against the path of the large intestine. Do this at least twice a day for one hundred cycles and the condition should start to clear up after a few days, assuming other factors are eliminated, like poor nutritional choices.


Treat the mother to treat the child:

The Chinese have an ancient saying, “treat the mother to treat the child. What this means is that especially in the early years of a child’s life, their health is affected by their parents, both mom and dad. One of my mentors told me the story of a severe case of asthma only clearing up in the child after the mother was also treated for asthma. For practitioners of Chinese Medicine, this has to do with a resonance of energy exchanged from the mother and father to the child.

As parents experience better health and increase their qi, their children will flourish and vice-versa. Since quantum physics and numerous studies on the healing power of prayer illuminate an essential oneness through all phenomena manifesting in the universe, we would do well to remember that our good health is good for the whole team. Literally, as we build qi and create more joy in our lives, we affect, by resonance, the state of health of the entire world. Personally I can think of no greater joy than seeing our children pain-free, happy and healthy.

At our Asheville acupuncture clinic, The Blue Ridge Clinic, we can possibly help your child, simply call us at 828-254-4405 to learn more.


[1] PEDIATRICS, Vol. 105, No.4, Supplement April 2000, pp. 941-047.

© James Whittle M.S., L.Ac. All rights reserved.

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