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Pediatric Health

Acupuncture Breaks Through as Treatment for Children

Ancient Technique Finds Applications in Young Patients

February 01, 2011
While I was undergoing specialized medical training in the 3,000-year-old practice of acupuncture, an unlikely patient approached me.

It was my 7-year-old son, who was complaining of a headache. I decided to try a little experiment. I pulled out two thin needles and inserted them into his hand, in just the right places. Within five minutes, he told me the headache was gone.

Coincidence? Not if you are a believer that the ancient Chinese art of acupuncture has real applications in modern medicine. Increasing numbers of Health professionals are turning to this technique for their patients – including the youngest ones – to treat a wide variety of conditions.

From easing headaches to stopping hiccups, from treating anxiety to alleviating abdominal pain, acupuncture is moving into the mainstream.

Acupuncture is based on observations of Chinese doctors more than 3,000 years ago. Within every human being, they maintained, is a life force or energy called "chi" (pronounced "chee") that circulates in our bodies through 12 "meridians," or invisible channels. Pain and various other conditions were perceived as blockages of this energy. According to these ancient healers, inserting needles into specific "acupoints" on the body would reestablish the natural flow of energy, restoring the body to its normal function. Thousands of years later, health practitioners are using virtually the same methods.

The sticking point

Most parents have vivid memories of their children screaming in the doctor's office during every routine shot. For them, it's almost unimaginable to choose a treatment for their child that involves needles.

The key is having the right approach when introducing the subject to the patient. It's also important for parents and children to know that modern acupuncture needles are so thin that they are hardly noticeable. Moreover, there are related, noninvasive techniques that can produce similar results. Acupressure, in which pressure points are manipulated by touch, and laser treatments targeting those same areas can be highly effective in pediatric patients.

A variety of uses

As a pediatric anesthesiologist at Riley Hospital for Children, I spend most of my time in the operating room. There, I frequently use acupuncture techniques to prevent and treat post-operative nausea and vomiting, which are common side effects of anesthesia.

Riley also operates a pain clinic that now offers acupuncture as part of its multidisciplinary approach. Abdominal pain and migraines are the most common conditions treated, and there is ample evidence to suggest that acupuncture can be effective for these and various other painful conditions.

There are plenty of benefits to acupuncture. It's more cost-effective than some other treatments, it's easy to use, and there are no side effects. In fact, it's hard to pinpoint a downside.

For more information, please visit rileyhospital.org.

Dr. Malik Nouri is a pediatric anesthesiologist for Riley Hospital for Children.

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