Acupuncture Generally Safe for Children, Says Study

Acupuncture in children is a safe treatment option with a low risk of bad side effects if done by properly trained practitioners, according to a new study published this week in the journal Pediatrics.

Canadian researchers from the University of Alberta in Edmonton reviewed decades’ worth of data that evaluated problems associated with needle acupuncture in children and found that of 279 adverse effects they identified, 25 were serious, one was moderate and 253 were mild.  Serious adverse effects included infections, intestinal blockages and one case of a fatal rupture of the heart. Mild outcomes included pain, bruising, bleeding and a worsening of symptoms.

“Our results support those from adult studies, which have found that acupuncture is safe when performed by appropriately trained practitioners,” wrote the authors, led by Denise Adams, a research associate at the University of Alberta. A number of the serious outcomes, they noted, may have been the result of “substandard practice.”

Acupuncture is a very common treatment option around the world, the authors explained, and based on data from a 2007 study, nearly three million adults and 150,000 children use it.

“Based on the literature, its most often used in pediatric patients with chronic pain, asthma, eczema and allergies,” said Dr. Lawrence Taw, assistant clinical professor at the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine in Los Angeles. Taw was not involved with the Canadian study.

“It’s considered very safe, but must be done by a practitioner who is well-trained and experienced. The most important thing is to know the anatomy very well – needles in certain areas of the body are potentially more dangerous,” he said.

Children may also have difficulty following directions or may be uncomfortable with needles, which can present safety concerns since they should remain relatively still while the needles are in their body, Taw explained.

Although their analysis suggested that pediatric acupuncture is generally safe if done by a qualified practitioner, the authors say their review only represents a small number of cases.

Because more and more children are having acupuncture, they wrote, “reliable information about its safety is urgently needed.”