Acupuncture for kids

Ten-year-old Elena has Tourette’s Syndrome.  A year ago, her doctor said Prozac was the only way to treat her full-body tics.  Instead, she tried acupuncture, and the tics went away.

“I don’t understand it, but it sure has worked miracles for our family,” says her mother, Beth Clark.

Eleven-year-old Megan does not like needles, so she tried acupressure, with magnets instead of needles.  It worked.  The migraines she used to get several times a week since she was five are now mostly gone.

“I used to be kinda sad and depressed, but now I’m all happy, and I feel a lot better,” Megan says.

According to the National Institutes of Health, 3 million adults and over 150,000 kids use acupuncture for relief when mainstream medicine just doesn’t work.

“A lot of people have been very skeptical,” says medical acupuncturist Dr. May Loo.  “They say ‘Oh, I’ve tried everything else, I’ve tried medication, and now I’m ready to go to surgery, but just as a last try, let me see if acupuncture is going to work’ and then acupuncture took the pain away.”

According to ancient Chinese medicine, energy, called Qi (pronounced ‘Chee’), flows through 20 channels in the body.  When the Qi gets blocked, it can cause pain.  Acupuncture is supposed to help the Qi start flowing again, which in turn relieves the pain.

“And so the person’s pain goes away.  The headache goes away.  So that’s how you know that the person is getting better.  Even though it is not being shown on, you know, an MRI scan or something like that,” says Dr. Loo.

Dr. Loo says it can work even on patients who are skeptical.  Elena’s mom agrees, “It’s working wonderfully!”

Tips for Parents

Acupuncture originated in China thousands of years ago and is today one of the most commonly used medical procedures in the world.

Practitioners of acupuncture believe there are more than 2,000 acupuncture points on the human body.
These points are believed to stimulate the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) to release chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain.  These chemicals either change the experience of pain or release other chemicals, such as hormones, that influence the body’s self-regulating systems. The biochemical changes may stimulate the body’s natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being.

As acupuncture has become more accepted in the U.S., it is being used more often to complement “conventional” treatments.   For example, doctors may combine acupuncture and drugs to control surgery-related pain in their patients.  This combination has allowed some doctors to offer their patients complete pain relief for some procedures.  It has also have found that using acupuncture lowers the need for conventional pain-killing drugs, reduces the risk of side effects.

Acupuncture is used to treat a range of illnesses, including:

  • Postoperative surgery pain, postoperative dental pain.
  • Nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy.
  • Sinusitis, bronchitis, asthma.
  • Gastritis, ulcers, nausea, vomiting, colitis, hiccups, constipation.
  • Headache, neck pain, low back pain, tennis elbow, frozen shoulder, osteoarthritis, peripheral neuropathy and stroke rehabilitation.
  • Menstrual cramps, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, carpel tunnel syndrome, and addiction.

Research on acupuncture is inconclusive.  Some studies show acupuncture effective in relieving both chronic (long-lasting) and acute or sudden pain, but other research shows no relief at all.

Pediatric acupuncture is a very new field of treatment.  Few licensed acupuncturists specialize in children and there is little research on child acupuncture.  Laws governing required training for acupuncture vary widely from state to state.  Pediatricians counsel:

  • Conventional treatments be used before trying acupuncture
  • An acupuncture procedure that works in adults will not necessarily work in children

If you are looking for a licensed acupuncture practitioner, the National Institutes of Health recommends you:

  • Check a practitioner’s credentials.  Most states have training standards for acupuncture certification, but requirements vary from state to state


  • National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
  • American Academy of Medical Acupuncture
  • NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine