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Acupuncture Safe for Children if Done Properly by Trained Professionals


Acupuncture has become a very common treatment option around the world, including children who mostly receive the therapy for conditions such as chronic pain, asthma, eczema and allergies. However, although acupuncture is one of the oldest healing practices in the world for adults, there have not been a lot of studies to ensure its safety among children. A new review conducted by researchers with the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, find that acupuncture is a safe treatment option with a low risk of side effects if it is performed by a properly trained practitioner.

"When you're dealing with children, you really would like to know about safety before you go ahead and try a new therapy," said Dr. Sunita Vohra, a member of the team led Denise Adams, a research associate, who reviewed data over the past decade and identified 279 adverse effects out of a total of 1422 needle acupuncture procedures performed on kids under the age of 18.

Overall, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, there have been relatively few complications from the use of acupuncture reported to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in light of the millions of people treated each year.

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Out of the total, the vast majority (253) were mild effects such as pain, bruising, bleeding and a worsening of symptoms. Twenty-five cases were serious and included conditions such as infections, intestinal blockages, and one case of a fatal rupture of the heart.

Adams notes that a number of the serious outcomes were likely the result of “substandard practice,” for example, inadequate sterilization of needles and improper delivery of treatment. Children may be particularly at risk because they have trouble following directions or may be uncomfortable with needles, notes Dr. Lawrence Taw, an assistant clinical professor at the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine in LA who was not involved in the study, but commented for ABC News.

Parents who wish to try the alternative therapy should receive a recommendation from their child’s pediatrician for a qualified acupuncturist in their area, especially one that is familiar with the anatomy of a child. Parents should observe the process to ensure that the needles are clean, sterile, nontoxic and labeled for single use. Practitioners should swab treatment sites with alcohol or other disinfectant before inserting needles.

Pediatrics, online November 21, 2011.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)

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