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Acupuncture for Children by Esther Hornstein, LAc, Dipl.

You have probably heard about the use of Oriental medicine, such as acupuncture, gaining popularity in the U.S. Millions of Americans are using acupuncture to improve their health, treating ailments ranging from the common cold to autoimmune disorders to orthopedic issues. Acupuncture is also gaining momentum as an effective and safe way to treat childhood issues too.

Acupuncture helps childhood development through all phases of infancy, toddlerhood, childhood, and puberty by helping their immature systems function at the highest possible level and strengthening them in various ways.

The Traditional Chinese Medical approach to Pediatrics

Troubles plaguing the infant are most commonly due to digestive problems. The baby has come from the womb where no effort was needed to digest and was pushed into a new environment where mother’s milk might be too much or too little, or in the form os powdered formula overloading the tiny system. Acupuncture helps to strengthen the digestive elements that lead to smoother developmental transitions. When children have indigestion it leads to anger and stress, whereas in adults, anger and stress lead to indigestion. A weak digestive system opens the child up to a host of subsequent problems like colic, eczema, acid reflux and sleeping problems.  

From the ages of 2 to 7 children are battling viruses and bacterial infections. Children are prone to fevers and febrile diseases, because of their overactive, ‘hot’ nature. Acupuncture is quite effective at clearing heat and alleviating pain. However with the invention of anti-biotics, Western children are suffering from more and more ‘cold’ conditions.

Over use of anti-biotics cause a double problem. The first, being that if the anti-biotic might not completely expel the pathogen from the child, and there will be a lingering aspect of the original disease staying in the child. As adults we can recognize when we are not back to our optimal health, but children lack the memory and frame of reference to know that they have not fully recovered. Lingering pathogens are the cause of re-occurring issues such as ear infections, strep, urinary tract infections, rashes, allergies or can later in life resurface as something completely different (similar to how the shingles are a lingering pathogenic effect of the chicken pox).

The second problem caused by overuse of antibiotics is that due to the cooling nature of these pharmaceuticals, the child’s active- warm energy (named yang) is depleted. This lowers the immune system and children’s’ natural resistance and resilience. Yang deficiency could show as back pain, constant runny nose, bedwetting, catching illness easily, asthma or being frequently tired. Acupuncture works to restore the warming energy and strengthen immunity.

From the ages of 7-12 most ailments are emotional in nature. Stress caused by school, home or peers may manifest as emotional symptoms or physical ailments. Traditional Chinese medicine treats the emotional as well as physical issues. Stages during puberty ie: hormonal imbalance, acne and menstrual problems can also be addressed.

Acupuncturists take into account family history, trauma, the mother’s pregnancy history, habits and emotional tendencies to build a complete picture to identify the pattern causing the problem.

How does acupuncture work?

Acupuncture is a form of Oriental Medicine. Thin hair-like needles are inserted into the skin at locations called acu-points, which are located throughout the body, from head to toe. These Acu-points connect to each other through pathways, called meridians. Meridians ultimately connect to organs. Each acu-point has specific functions and are used in combination with other acu-points to achieve a desired medical effect. These meridians influence the function of the organs. Oriental medical physiology attributes emotional and physical functions to the organs, which is why acupuncture can affect emotional wellbeing. By stimulating specific acu-points along the meridian, the organ is influenced to rectify the problem causing the symptoms.

Licensed acupuncturists are also trained to use pediatric massage (tui na and shoni shin), moxibustion (warming the skin) and other Oriental techniques to stimulate the acu-points to elicit healing.

Case History: Levi S.

A nine year old boy, the 6th of 10 children, mother stated that he needed to stop bedwetting so that he could go to sleep away camp. Secondary complaint was the child’s academic learning disabilities. His history included sensory integration disorder and frequent ear infections as a baby. Upon asking further, I found out that he tends to be cold and would get very tired after only a couple of minutes of playing at recess. His emotional state was good.

Examination also included pulse palpation and tongue examination (looking at the tongue and feeling the pulse are diagnostic tools in Oriental medicine)

All the signs pointed to yang deficiency with damp accumulation (dampness is a pathogenic factor that causes fatigue and blocks energetic circulation).

I treated him first with subcutaneous electric stimulation, what is nicknamed ‘the tickle machine’ at various points of his arms, legs and abdomen. Once he was comfortable with the tickle machine, I needled a few of these points. Then I sent him home with magnets on some of the most important points. The tickle machine gently stimulates the skin with a weak electric impulse. Needles are more effective because they can better reach the acu-point which is usually beneath the skin (usually about ¼ to ½  inch deep). The magnets perpetuate the benefits of the treatment and prolonged stimulation of the points help the body balance effectively.

When the mother came a month later with her daughter, to be treated for re-occurring urinary tract infections, she said that the 1 treatment for Levi made a 75% improvement in his bedwetting, little Levi got to go to sleep away camp!

What to Expect from Pediatric Acupuncture.

Risks of side effects are low. The most common side effect that may occur is a hematoma or soreness around the insertion area. Western science is currently researching the rate of effectiveness that acupuncture has on children, which is difficult because acupuncture is not a one size fits all treatment; there are many variables to test. The western medical community has however suggested that acupuncture is effective at treating pediatric pain, nausea and shortness of breath (asthma).

Children are very receptive to acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Depending on the case, children will most likely need two to three treatments to resolve a new complaint, and may need more treatments for chronic issues. In addition to addressing diet and habits, the acupuncturist may also instruct the parent(s) how to use specific massage techniques on the child at home. Treatments may start out needle- free and with the child’s permission; later on, include needles which will be more effective as the child grows older.

Esther Hornstein is a mother of 2 and a licensed acupuncturist in the State of New York and a Diplomat of Acupuncture. She has participated in hospital acupuncture projects in NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases and Lutheran Medical Center. She currently has a Brooklyn based private practice and can be reached at (917) 414-3831. For more information about acupuncture visit www.2ndNatureAcu.com