In China, patients go to acupuncturists from all ranges of ages — newborn (or even pre-born because of the mother) to any age. In the United States though, it looks like people are concerned about the discomfort and pain for kids because they are so protective of kids. That is why here there are much fewer kids exposed to acupuncture, and trying it.
My feelings are that it is just a cultural difference. Imagine when kids need to go to a dentist, a surgeon, or to have a simple vaccine or injection, etc. all of these medical procedures actually hurt much more than acupuncture. If kids can do those things, they can definitely tolerate acupuncture. Some people must wonder about kids who cannot stay still and they might think it will be difficult to do it. This is actually not true. For most kids, they are still when receiving acupuncture treatment just like adults. There are a few kids who may be a little bit fussy at the beginning and then a few minutes later they will be fine too. Of course, there may be 0.5% of kids that are not suitable for acupuncture, just like some certain medical procedures aren’t good for some people.
In China, when we started to give kids acupuncture for PDD research in 1987, we went to special schools to have acupuncture service for kids. We treated kids in their classrooms (five to thirteen years old) in an efficient order, like an assembly line with many of them sitting in a row receiving the treatment. Their behavior was fine. The reality is if the acupuncture is performed by well-trained acupuncturists, nothing really hurts. Since it is new here because of the cultural difference, we always ask both parents to come for the first visit with the child. We ask the parents to try the needle first so they can know what kind of sensation the child will have. If they feel it is fine, we’ll continue with the child. That procedure with the parents is done purposely to convince the kids that it’s okay to have acupuncture. So far, we have helped many children without any problems from the parents.
Pediatric acupuncturists appeared in China a long time ago, just like OBGYN acupuncturists, internal medicine acupuncturists, etc. Generally speaking, in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and acupuncture theory, children’s problems are easier to deal with than adults because they are still in the developmental stage so they grow fast, heal fast, and are full of energy. If the treatment is correct, the reaction will be very positive and quick. For most kids’ situations, they don’t need as many treatments as adults. For many of them, just one or two treatments shows results. Here, you can see to send a child to an acupuncturist is much simpler and less uncomfortable than going to other medical professionals. It is also actually very safe for kids to have acupuncture.
The most effective and commonly used acupuncture points are between elbows and the ends of hands, and between knees and the ends of feet. Acupuncture for children doesn’t need as much time for the needles to stay in, and for some problems the needle only goes in and out. Even further, some kids don’t need needles at all – they just need acupressure. There’s no risk to the treatments, especially since so often the kids fall and hurt themselves and that is much harsher of an injury than acupuncture ever will be. Sometimes, just changing the diet makes a big difference too.