Acupuncture Safe For Kids: Study
November 22, 2011

Acupuncture Safe For Kids: Study

Acupuncture can be a generally safe treatment for children when performed by trained professionals, according to a new Canadian study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers reviewed 37 studies or case reports, and found that in 1,422 children treated with acupuncture, just 168, or 12 percent, experienced a mild adverse reaction such as pain, bruising or numbness.

The scientists identified 25 reports of serious adverse events, such as infections and other hospitalizations after a procedure had gone wrong.  These included a 17-year-old French boy who was diagnosed with HIV after acupuncture treatment for tendonitis, a 16-year-old Japanese boy who had nerve problems when more than 70 needles were left in his body, and 12 thumb deformities at one Chinese center in the 1980's.

However, these cases were extremely rare.

"There's some pretty unusual circumstances“¦that don't really seem to happen now under modern-day circumstances,” said lead author Dr. Sunita Vohra, a pediatrics professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.

Based on their analysis, the researchers concluded that acupuncture treatments for children and teens under the age of 18 appear to be safe when performed by qualified practitioners.

"In trained hands, acupuncture seems safe in children," Dr. Vohra said during an interview with Reuters.

The cases reviewed in the analysis ranged from "gold standard" randomized trials to single reports of acupuncture-related side effects and injury, the researchers said.

"When you're dealing with children, you really would like to know about safety before you go ahead and try a new therapy," Dr. Vohra said.

This is particularly true "if you're not sure about effectiveness" of a treatment, she said.

Acupuncture is used as an alternative therapy to treat a variety of conditions, such as pain and headaches.  However, very few large, long-term studies have looked at its effectiveness or safety in children.

Since acupuncturists are regulated differently from state to state, parents can seek out various national and statewide organizations that have lists of trained, certified practitioners.

Dr. Adeline Ge, senior Chinese medicine consultant with the U.S. National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, told Reuters that there are ways to ensure children are getting safe, appropriate treatment.

For instance, they can get a recommendation from their child´s pediatrician for a local, qualified acupuncturist.

However, "before they make an appointment, they definitely need to talk with the acupuncturist and discuss the medical condition. No matter the kid's (age), I do highly recommend that the parents go with the kids, so parents can at least observe," said Ge, who wasn't involved in the current review.

Parents should also ensure that the needles the practitioner uses are clean, and that kids' skin has been properly cleaned.

They should also avoid acupuncturists that offer low-cost treatments, Ge said. The typical cost for an initial acupuncture session varies, but starts at around $100.

"In general, acupuncture is a very safe therapy," Ge said.

"It should be good for kids. But consider their age, and we do need to be very careful and recommend that the parents are always involved."

Dr. Vohra said that acupuncture is still not recommended for kids younger than two.

The analysis was published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.


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