Expert Review: Acupuncture in children

In a recently published study Canadian researchers examined the safety of acupuncture in children. They reviewed 37 studies which included 1,422 children treated for various conditions, including migraines. Their conclusion was that acupuncture was a safe treatment for children.

This is an important study, considering that every year about 150,000 children undergo acupuncture in the US. However, the researchers did find reports of complications, particularly when the acupuncturists did not adhere to strict safety standards. Some of the complications reported in children and adults include infection, bruising, puncture of the lung, and traveling of the needle inside the body after breaking of the needle.

In the United States to become certified in acupuncture medical doctors (MDs) need to undergo 300 hours of training, while non-MDs go through 2,000 hours of training, although requirements vary by state. I've been practicing acupuncture (with very good results) for over 25 years, but I do refer some of my patients to acupuncturists who are not MDs. I usually refer when because of the location it is inconvenient for a patient to visit my office on a weekly basis or when patient's insurance will only reimburse acupuncture done by a non-MD (many insurers do that to reduce costs).

I have found several acupuncturists who I trust and I have found them by recommendations of patients and doctors. Word of mouth is often the best way to find an acupuncturist. Personal qualities of the acupuncturist, good communication skills, clean and welcoming environment, and the use of disposable needles can guide you as well.

A study in Germany, where many physicians practice acupuncture, showed that the results of treatment did not vary among different specialists, except for somewhat worse results when acupuncture was done by orthopedic surgeons. This consistency is probably due to the fact that clinical studies suggest that the precise selection of acupuncture spots is not as crucial as we used to think. This does not mean that acupuncture works only through a placebo effect since animals also respond to acupuncture and many veterinarians use acupuncture in their practice. Also, many scientific studies have shown several different mechanisms by which acupuncture may produce beneficial effects (serotonin and endogenous morphine systems, among others).

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