Acupuncture can be a wonderful therapy for kids. Many people often ask what the youngest age is that I can treat. And the answer is, we can tailor treatment according to the child's age, stage of development, and comfort with treatment. I have been fortunate enough to treat newborns in the neonatal ICU, as well as toddlers, preschoolers, elementary-aged kids, preteens, and teens here in my clinic as well as a variety of hospital and public health settings. For babies and young children, I don't usually use needles, but rather non-insertive acupuncture techniques, acupressure, and magnet therapies. Usually by age 6 or 7, kids tolerate the acupuncture needles really well, and we work together to find the most appropriate form of treatment for them.
I think acupuncture is great for kids on so many levels. Perhaps the most obvious reason is that acupuncture can be a really effective treatment for lots of common childhood medical issues. Additionally, however, I think it is so valuable to expose kids to acupuncture for a variety of different reasons. Here are my top 8:
8. Treats allergies and asthma.
According to the CDC, almost 10% of children in the US have asthma. Many more kids suffer from chronic sinusitis or seasonal allergies. Rather than loading kids up with strong medications, acupuncture can help the body balance itself naturally and moderate or clear symptoms all together with a lasting effect. In children with severe asthma when medication is clearly necessary, acupuncture can be used as an effective adjunctive treatment to keep the dosage of the medication as low as possible.
7. Boosts immunity.
This really goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. A number of small pilot clinical trials have had promising results regarding acupuncture’s ability to modulate the immune response, particularly in children with asthma. Additionally, acupuncture can be used to effectively boost immunity to prevent colds, flus, and other common childhood illnesses.
6. Promotes healthy digestive function
It always amazes me how many of the pediatric patients I see in clinic have problems with their digestive function – whether this means constipation or irregular bowel movements, stomach cramping, gas, or food allergies. Acupuncture can be a very useful tool for helping the digestive system regulate itself better, to minimize symptoms and also to increase the body’s ability to effectively absorb nutrients.
5. Stops pain
One of the most common reasons that adults in this country seek out acupuncture is for pain management. The good news is, acupuncture can be a very effective treatment for decreasing pain in children, as well. This makes it an ideal therapy for acute or chronic musculoskeletal pain or injuries, as well as pain from conditions like juvenile arthritis, Lyme Disease, or juvenile Fibromyalgia. We can also use the acupuncture to effectively reduce symptoms of headaches, migraines, sinus pain, dental pain, and back pain in children.
4. Reduces Stress and Anxiety
It is estimated that 15-20% of individuals in the US will experience a form of anxiety (generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, separation anxiety, PTSD, etc.) during their childhood or adolescence. Promising research has suggested that acupuncture can be a useful therapy for anxiety, which is something that I see clinically all the time. Additionally, kids are often overwhelmed by an increasingly busy and demanding world, whether that be schoolwork or social commitments or navigating family relationships or being involved in a multitude of activities and clubs. Acupuncture can help ease symptoms of stress in children that can become habits hard to break in later years.
3. Helps them connect with their bodies
Beyond its effectiveness at treating the condition for which a child comes in for acupuncture treatment, I think there are a lot of additional benefits that acupuncture can offer to kids and teens. The first is that it offers a way for them to connect with their bodies that is healthy, noncompetitive, and appreciative. Acupuncture allows kids to be more embodied, and for them to consciously make themselves aware of bodily sensations in a positive way. Unfortunately, in our society, the way that most children learn to “connect” with their bodies is to physically master their bodies’ weaknesses. This is how competitive sports teach us how to relate to our physical selves. As an athlete myself since childhood, I am not arguing that this is necessarily a bad thing. Competitive sports teach children lots of good things – dedication, drive, stamina, the importance of hard work…not to mention creating a value system that includes physical fitness and healthy behavior. However, acupuncture provides a needed balance to that world. Acupuncture allows children to feel their bodies, rather than master them. This helps to promote healthy body image, a respect for their physical selves, and a better understanding of how their minds, hearts, and bodies are interconnected.
2. Teaches them how to relax
It always amazes me that we don’t teach our children how to relax. School, sports, and after-school-activities tend to be focused on being active, on accomplishing, on moving forward to whatever the next step is. And again, this is all well and good and healthy. However, kids NEED to know how to calm themselves down, how to slow down, how to quiet their mind and how to let their body be calm. Acupuncture provides a wonderful opportunity for them to learn how to get to a place of relaxation within themselves, and provides them with valuable skills that they can use later in life when faced with stress or difficulties.
1. Exposes them to other ways of understanding
I always tell parents, when they bring their kids in for acupuncture, that they are giving their children such a gift by exposing them to other systems of healing. Just as acupuncture teaches children that there are other ways of connecting with their bodies, it also teaches them that there are other ways of understanding themselves, their bodies, and the world around them. And anything that teaches kids to approach life with an open mind and an open heart can only be good for them.