Oct. 15, 2002 -- Once considered on the fringe of even "alternative" medicine, acupuncture has made great strides into the mainstream. Now, research shows it offers kids significant relief from chronic headaches, stomachaches, back pain, and other ills -- without any side effects.
Headaches are a serious problem for many children, affecting school attendance, academic performance, social development, and interpersonal relationships, says Yuan-Chi Lin, MD, a researcher at Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital in Boston.
In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is believed to open channels of energy that run in patterns through the body, correcting imbalances and increasing energy. Researchers today believe that acupuncture needles stimulate the nervous system to release chemicals and hormones that relieve pain and influence the body's own internal regulating system.
More than one-third of pain treatment centers in the U.S. provide acupuncture as a therapy, he adds.
In his study, 243 patients aged 6 months to 18 years received acupuncture treatments for one year for a variety of complaints, including lower back, hip, and lower extremity pain, abdominal pain, and headaches.
Before treatment, the children gave their pain an average score of 8 on a scale of 1-10, where 10 was most painful. A year later, the average score was a 3. There were no reported side effects or complications related to the treatments.
"Patients reported missing less school, having better sleep patterns, and being able to participate in more extracurricular activities," Lin says.
Talking with the child can help overcome any fear of needles -- the treatment's only potential drawback. Also, the pain relief itself serves as positive reinforcement.
"Through careful explanation and demonstration, children are not afraid of acupuncture and can tolerate treatments very well with minimal discomfort," says Lin.
In his study, children felt less fear and tolerated treatments very well once the procedure was carefully explained and demonstrated for them, he adds. Some patients feel slight discomfort when the needles are inserted, but once in place, the needles cause no pain. The pain relief helps make up for the discomfort, he says. -->