Acupuncture for Kids – How safe is it?

Picture a child under several needle punctures without any form of sedation.  Would you consider it, if your child were ill and not responding to conventional medical treatment?  A surprising number of parents have.

Although the action of taking your child to see a trained acupuncturist may seem unnatural for some parents, for others it seemed the only course of remedy. Their willingness to have their children undergo this traditional Chinese practice have enabled  research  studies to  be conducted, which  has since provided evidence for its  acceptance into Western culture.

Acupuncture is an alternative treatment modality that reportedly offers curative benefits to patients for specific types of ailments through insertion and manipulation of thin needles in the body.

After careful review of studies spanning 60 years, Dr. Sunita Vohra, professor in the Department of Paediatrics and her colleagues of the University of Alberta in Edmonton assert “acupuncture is safe for children.”  The study was recently published in the Medical Journal, which now joins other peer reviewed evidence-based standards.

The recurring theme throughout the study, however, is one that strongly touts the treatment safe, only when administered by trained practitioners. Based on review of 37 studies in over half a century Dr. Vohra decisively concludes the procedure safe for children.

In the findings, 1,422 children were successfully treated with few exceptions of mild adverse effects dominating the reports. These adverse effects included pain, bruising, bleeding and worsening of symptoms occurring in 168 of the 1,422 children in the studies.

Severe effects were also reported. Twenty-five (25) serious events occurred in children with needle acupuncture; the majority of cases resulted in thumb deformity, usually after 1 year of treatment. 

Also, “five serious infections consisted of one case of HIV, one sacroiliitis, one septic arthritis of a lumbar facet joint, a pyogenic spondylitis, and a case of sub-periosteal abscess and osteomyelitis of the frontal bone.”  These reports reflected sub-standard sterile technique in performance of the procedure.

In one serious event a boy died having received a cardiac rupture. The autopsy report revealed needle holes in the diaphragm, the pericardium, and right ventricular wall, for which the cause of death was deemed puncture of the heart.

“Current acupuncture regulations precisely detail protocols intended to maximize the safety of acupuncture practice, including procedures for sterilization and needling in the areas of organs,” researchers said.  They however, added that “it is unknown what regulations were in place at the times and places of these adverse events.”

For parents to take their children to an acupuncturist for treatment imply that: either they believe in the health promotional benefits of homeopathic medicine or have resorted to its technique, having exhausted all options in the medical system. Despair and lack of satisfactory answers for their children’s ailments are compelling reasons why parents will seek alternative forms of therapy.

But can this review convince a wider cross-section of families that acupuncture is safe for their children?  Based on what researchers have said “the small number of participants included in the reviewed studies has limited the ability to draw conclusions about the overall safety of pediatric acupuncture,” they acknowledged.

Article first published as Acupuncture for Kids – How Safe is it? on Technorati.