What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture refers to the insertion of tiny, hair-thin needles into the skin at strategic points to ease pain and treat many illnesses. Practiced in China for more than 2,000 years, acupuncture is based on the belief that the body contains energy called qi (pronounced "chee") that flows throughout the body on pathways called meridians. When you're healthy, this energy flows freely, but during illness, the energy may be weak or blocked. During acupuncture treatment, the clinician tries to improve the energy flow along the meridians.
The improved energy flow produced by acupuncture results in stimulation of the body's natural healing abilities. Scientific research suggests that needling acupuncture points stimulates the body to release chemicals into the nervous system and into the bloodstream. These chemicals change the experience of pain and trigger the release of other substances that influence the body's internal regulatory systems. Acupuncture has proven successful in treating chronic pain conditions without side effects. It's also shown to be helpful in treating patients with:
- postoperative surgery and dental pain
- nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy
- sinusitis, bronchitis, and asthma
- gastritis, colitis, hiccups, and constipation
- abdominal pain
- low back pain
- neck pain
- stroke rehabilitation
- menstrual cramps
- tennis elbow
- myofascial pain
- carpal tunnel syndrome
How old does my child need to be to receive acupuncture?
Infants as young as 3 weeks old can undergo acupuncture therapy.
What happens before acupuncture treatment?
The acupuncturist will talk with you about your child's health history, including medications, diets and daily habits. The acupuncturist will also examine your child's tongue and checks the pulse in both wrists. The biggest challenge in pediatric acupuncture is addressing children's fear of needles. To deal with this issue, the acupuncturist may spend up to an hour with first-time patients and their families to make them completely comfortable with the procedure. They will carefully explain the process and can demonstrate it on their own hand or on your child's toy animal.
What happens during acupuncture treatment?
During the acupuncture session, your child will lie on a padded table. The acupuncturist will insert very thin sterile and disposable stainless steel needles into key points on your child's body. Because the needles are solid, they don't hurt as much as regular hollow hypodermic needles. Most children feel only minimal pain or a tingling sensation as the needles are inserted, and some feel no pain at all. Once the needles are in place, no pain is felt and most children begin to feel comfortable and relaxed. Each treatment usually takes between 30 and 60 minutes.
How many treatments will my child need?
The majority of patients have weekly sessions for 4 to 6 weeks and then return for monthly follow-ups.
Will my insurance cover medical acupuncture?
Despite the documented benefits of acupuncture therapy, some insurance companies do not yet recognize its value. Please discuss your individual needs with your medical acupuncturist.
How Boston Children's approaches acupuncture
In the Medical Acupuncture Service at Boston Children's Hospital, our doctors are fully licensed in Western medicine and also have thorough training in acupuncture as a specialty practice. The advantage is that the physician is able to integrate both conventional medicine and acupuncture to treat illness.