A Canadian study has found that acupuncture is generally safe for children, but that complications can occur when procedures are done by untrained or inexperienced providers.
Researchers at the University of Alberta in Edmonton reviewed 37 studies which included 1,422 children treated for various conditions, from anxiety to chronic pain. 25 children had serious adverse reactions to acupuncture, while 168 experienced mild reactions such as pain or crying. The study was recently published in the journal Pediatrics.
“In trained hands, acupuncture seems safe for children,” said Dr. Sunita Vohra, the senior author of the study and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Alberta.
An Eastern medical therapy, acupuncture is said to open Qi channels or “life force” in a person, releasing the body’s natural pain killers. Acupuncture is used for treating a variety of conditions, including migraines, anxiety, muscle problems and nausea. Fine needles are inserted into the skin at specific sites in the body. The needles may be heated or hooked to electrical devices for extra stimulation.
No specific studies have focused on the safety of acupuncture in children. So Vohra and her colleagues reviewed the available literature and found 37 acupuncture studies and case reports that included children. They found that adverse events were significantly lower in children than in adults. 12 percent of the children had mild negative reactions, including bleeding, pain, crying, bruising and worsening of symptoms.
25 children had severe side effects, mostly infections and thumb deformities caused by repeated insertion of needles. One child was infected with HIV, a boy suffered a fatal cardiac rupture, a girl’s lung collapsed while she was being treated for an asthma attack, and a boy suffered severe nerve damage when 70 needles were inserted into his body.
The severe reactions sound alarming, but Vohra says most of the complications occurred when procedures were performed by inexperienced or untrained acupuncturists.
“But that’s not to say they didn’t occur,” said Vohra. “Which is why we think it’s very important for children, for anyone receiving acupuncture, to make sure that they are in the hands of someone who has appropriate training.”