Acupuncture for children and teens
People often say to us “Acupuncture for kids? How does that work?!” The answer is the same as for a patient of any age. We always meet the patient where they are.
So, if the child is young and can’t sit still for acupuncture, we use Shoni-shin (acupressure for kids) or we use needles that aren’t retained (just a quick in to access the Qi and then right back out again). We even use massage, and will often teach parents how to do Tuina massage for their kids at home to keep the effects of the treatment going between acupuncture appointments. But maybe we’re seeing an older child or even a teenager; then we adjust our treatment style to something we would do for an adult.
Acupuncture is flexible, and we tailor all our treatments to each individual patient. There’s no such thing as cookie cutter acupuncture.
How does acupuncture for children and teens work?
Pediatric acupuncture works much the same way acupuncture for adults works. We use the same acupuncture points and meridians and are guided by the same theories.
Kids are very responsive to acupuncture, even if they get quick needling or shoni-shin needle-free acupressure. Older kids and teens, if they’re able to lay still, will get regular acupuncture. Kids respond much faster than adults regardless of the kind of treatment they’re getting. For example, when treating a child for a flu with acupuncture, we might see a change in his fever by the end of the treatment.
We can also use low doses of herbs to treat kids and teens too. We often use pediatric tinctures instead of pills or capsules, which makes taking herbs very easy. We also know a few tricks to mask herbal remedies in any form in the case of sensitive patients.
What does acupuncture for kids treat?
Because acupuncture treats illness based on what the practitioner sees, the name of the diagnosis doesn’t matter that much. That’s a long way of saying acupuncture for kids can treat basically everything. However, these are the conditions we most commonly see in the clinic:
Sounds like I should bring my child in for treatment. What’s next?
Acupuncture treats Attention Deficit Disorder and Hyperactivity
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are two of the most common pediatric neuro-behavioral diagnoses of the past 20 years. ADD/ADHD have been linked to a decrease in time for play in school, pesticide and chemical exposure, poor diet, excess sugar intake and food allergies, genetic predisposition, neurotransmitter dysregulation, and a whole host of other causative factors. ADD and ADHD have such a significant impact on a child’s life because of the varying degrees of inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, poor listening, fidgeting and forgetfulness that are hallmarks of these disorders. Because of this, we take a multi-pronged approach to treatment by working with the diet, behavioral and sleep habits, and reducing lifestyle stressors in addition to acupuncture and herbs for ADD and ADHD. We tailor treatments to the age of the patient since symptoms vary greatly in young kids versus teens. We also recognize that one person’s ADD/ADHD might have very different symptoms than another’s of the same age. This is explained in Chinese medicine by the Five Elements and each element’s “type” of ADD/ADHD, giving Chinese medicine an advantage at treating the individual as a unique person instead of a walking, talking diagnosis label.
Acupuncture treats symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD)
Acupuncturists around the world who treat autism symptoms with acupuncture have witnessed dramatic improvements in symptoms. Julian Scott, one of the leading pediatric acupuncture experts, goes so far as to say “emphatically yes” when asked if kids with ASD should receive acupuncture. In addition to working with the diet and lifestyle patterns, acupuncture can be used to help with the symptoms of lack of eye contact, withdrawn behavior, rocking and erratic body movements, and fear and anxiety.
Acupuncture treats failure to thrive in children
Failure to thrive is a loosely defined term that means a child fails to meet developmental milestones, gain weight or grow. These markers alone are rarely used to identify failure to thrive, but when combined with low appetite and other digestive complaints, like vomiting, may indicate a problem. Acupuncture can treat failure to thrive by regulating digestion and supporting the constitution. Acupuncture can also clear what’s called a lingering pathogen, which is often seen in infections that weren’t completely cleared or otherwise mistreated.
Acupuncture treats insomnia and night terrors in children and teens
It’s often said that children grow are like sponges. They absorb so much information each day. They also grow so much. As a parent, we often find ourselves needing to go back to the store again and again to buy pants because the pair we seem to have just bought is now too short. Even once our children become teens, they’re still being flooded with new information constantly. One of the most important ways that a young person’s brain deals with these constant changes is by sleeping. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least 10 hours of sleep per night for kids under 12 and at least 9 hours for teenagers. Yet study after study shows us that our kids aren’t getting enough sleep. A lot of kids have trouble settling down after a long day, suffering from insomnia when bedtimes comes around. Another issue kids suffer from are night terrors and nightmares. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help kids and teens deal with both insomnia and night terrors. In addition to acupuncture for sleep trouble, we can also talk about lifestyle changes to improve sleep habits.
Acupuncture treats bedwetting (nocturnal enuresis)
Bedwetting is very common in children, and may persist into adolescence. Western medicine doesn’t have many options to treat bedwetting. Some behavioral modifications, like restricting drinking before bed, are used, but don’t offer consistent results. Acupuncture can help strengthen the ability to hold urine. Acupuncture can also help with the emotional factors that contribute to bedwetting. Herbal medicine is also useful. When bedwetting is accompanied by asthma, frequent colds, allergies and eczema, acupuncture will be used to treat all of these conditions as a related whole syndrome. By strengthening the constitution, all of these conditions can be improved.
Acupuncture treats constipation in children and teens
Babies and children of any age can struggle with constipation. Babies are especially prone to constipation and what Chinese medicine calls “food stagnation,” which can lead to reflux and colic. As the hormonal upsurge of puberty sets in, teens can become constipated too. In teens, constipation can lead to acne and other skin disorders. At any age, constipation can worsen psoriasis. Acupuncture is especially good at treating constipation because in addition to improving bowel function and motility, acupuncture can treat the emotional causes of constipation, like fear of and shame around using public restrooms. Chinese medicine theory also provides lifestyle and dietary changes that can support healthy bowel habits.
Acupuncture treats stomachaches in children and teens
We have a second “brain” in our digestive systems. There are a huge number of nerves in our intestines. When we have emotional upsets, we often feel it in our “guts.” Our immune system is also very tied to our digestive system. Anxiety, stress and food intolerances are all common causes of stomachaches in kids and teens. Acupuncture also treats the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Acupuncture treats colic in newborns and babies
Colic, the bane of parents of newborns, is one of the more poorly understood afflictions of the digestive system. Most think the cause is an under-developed digestive system that spasms in response to the job of digestion. Acupuncture can help relax the spasms that cause the stomachache of colic, relax the anxiety that comes with discomfort and also improve digestion.
Acupuncture treats vomiting and heartburn
The digestive systems of babies and children are still developing until puberty. When something obstructs the natural downward movement of food from the stomach, there will be vomiting. The blockage can be caused by stuck food, emotional upset causing spasms, or overindulgence in cold, spicy or greasy foods. Heartburn can be seen as a more mild version of the “rebellion” that causes vomiting. Heartburn and GERD can cause cough and sore throat, sinus problems, restlessness, and emotional distress. Acupuncture and herbs can help open these blockages and relax spasms in the digestive system.
Acupuncture treats Juvenile Arthritis (JA)
Juvenile arthritis (JA) is a catch-all diagnosis for any of the autoimmune and inflammatory joint diseases in children under the age 16. JA can also affect the digestive system and eyes. The most common type of juvenile arthritis is juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). The cause of juvenile arthritis isn’t know, but we suspect a combination of genetic predisposition, food allergies and exposure to environmental toxins cause the under-developed immune system to become hyperactive and attack the body instead of an outside invader. Acupuncture can help treat the pain and inflammation associated with juvenile arthritis as well as improve the emotional state of kids coping with JA.
Acupuncture treats chronic and acute ear infections (otitis media)
Ear infections have both an acute and chronic form. Acute ear infections are most common in children under 3 years old, but children of any age can develop ear infections. Acute cases can be either of bacterial or viral cause, making antibiotics necessary only part of the time. Chronic otitis media can develop from recurring acute ear infections. Acupuncture can treat the inflammation that accompanies ear infections and causes blockages in the ducts of the ear and sinuses, which contributes to prolonged illness. Acupuncture can also support the constitution to strengthen the immune system and reduce phlegm congestion.
Acupuncture treats recurrent colds and acute cases of colds and flu
Acupuncture and herbs are great for boosting the immune system in kids who catch colds easily, over and over. The approach to building the constitution of patients is the key to make them more resistant to the germs they meet. We don’t only want to treat kids when they’re well but predisposed to colds and flu. We can also treat kids when they’re sick to help them recover more quickly. Using herbs is also helpful because caregivers can continue treatment even when they can’t come into the clinic for acupuncture.
Acupuncture for allergies and asthma in children and teens
Allergies may be seasonal, indoor or outdoor, or food allergies. By treating the defensive Qi of the patient and strengthening the constitution overall, we can calm an overactive immune systems so they don’t see every foreign particle as a dangerous invader. Seasonal allergies are best treated at least one season prior to their onset. For example, spring allergies, like hay fever, are treated in the winter.
Acupuncture treats atopic dermatitis (eczema) and asthma
Atopic dermatitis (eczema) and asthma are a common pair in American children, with 10% of all children in the US being diagnosed as asthmatics. Asthma is especially common in kids in cities, like New York. Finding asthma and eczema together often means that both will be more stubborn cases resistant to traditional treatments. Acupuncture and herbs strengthen the lungs, stop itching and scaling, and reduce inflammation and irritation of the skin. We also use diet and lifestyle modification to improve symptoms of asthma and eczema, since these two conditions are often associated with food and environmental allergies. Herbal medicine is helpful because each dose is a treatment in itself.
For more information about the treatment of eczema, please visit the Eczema page.