Acupuncture Helps Kids and Teens With Chronic Pain
April 26, 2000 -- Young people who suffer from medical conditions that cause
chronic pain may get relief from an age-old Chinese tradition: acupuncture.
Children and teenagers who have undergone treatment with acupuncture say the
tiny needles placed at certain points on the skin ease pain with little
Although some young people said they were scared at first or thought it was
"weird," the majority of kids and their parents who were asked about
their acupuncture experiences via a telephone survey had more positive comments
than negative ones. Researchers from Children's Hospital in Boston, who report
the results of the survey in the journal Pediatrics, say pediatricians
should consider acupuncture as a treatment option, at least for some children
with severe, chronic pain.
Acupuncture involves placing tiny needles just under the surface of the skin
at certain points on the body. Some acupuncturists say they do not know why
acupuncture works -- just that it does. Others believe the therapy stimulates
Chi, or Qi, the vital energy that practitioners of Chinese
medicine believe is central to maintaining and controlling bodily
Adherents say the invisible Chi flows throughout the body through a
series of channels known as meridians, as well as in the blood. Acupuncturists
place the needles at various points along the meridians to promote a healthy
flow of Chi. Sometimes, the needles are warmed by touching one or more
of them with a smoldering Chinese herb; other times they are turned or twisted
slightly by hand to stimulate these points.
When asked what they did not like about acupuncture treatments, the young
people and their families mentioned an initial fear of the needles. Although
most said they overcame the fear, the researchers say acupuncture can be
performed successfully using other methods without needles. These include
cupping, in which a warmed glass is placed on the skin to relieve muscle
tension through suction; and the use of magnets on various areas of the body,
including in the ears.
The 47 young people in the survey ranged in age from 5 to 20 years and
underwent acupuncture an average of eight times over three months. Their
reasons for needing acupuncture included migraine headaches, the painful
gynecologic condition known as endometriosis, and burning nerve pain associated
with reflex sympathetic dystrophy.
Seventy percent of the young people and 59% of their parents reported
improvement in pain symptoms. Some also mentioned that acupuncture seemed to
help with relaxation.
Norbert Weidner, MD, a licensed acupuncturist who uses the therapy at
Cincinnati Children's Hospital, says pre-teens and teen-agers usually are
better candidates for acupuncture than younger children because they are more
likely to be able to understand the concepts involved.
"Often what I do is show them the needles and let them hold the
needle," Weidner tells WebMD. "Sometimes I will place it on my body,
usually my hand, to show them as I'm talking to them that the placement is very
easy and that once it is placed, I can still talk and move my hand." With
young children, he describes the sensation of the needles as feeling "like
a mosquito that lands on you and is more annoying, [rather] than something that
is actually painful."
Edward A. Weiss, MD, a licensed acupuncturist in private practice in Palo
Alto, Calif., says that when introducing children to acupuncture, it often
helps if they accompany a parent for a treatment and see for themselves that
little discomfort is involved. "Another way is just to say, 'Let's try
this, you be in control and if you don't like it, we'll stop,'" Weiss
The researchers say more studies are needed to assess the effectiveness of
acupuncture in relieving children's pain.