The biggest barrier to more children receiving acupuncture is the perception that they will not be able to endure needles. The reality is that, when practised in the right way, acupuncture can be almost painless and is accepted by the vast majority of children.
However, there is a small percentage of children for whom being needled is genuinely terrifying. This may be a child who is particularly sensitive to pain, or who has had some trauma in the past. Thankfully, this are several other methods of delivering acupuncture treatment which do not involve the use of needles.
Low level laser acupuncture
A laser pen applies a quantity of therapeutic light to the acupuncture point over which it is held. The process is totally painless for the child. The effect of a laser pen is as close as it is possible to get to that of a needle without actually using a needle.
In a typical treatment, anywhere between two and eight acupuncture points may be treated with the laser pen. The pen is held over each point for approximately twenty seconds. An entire treatment may be done only with a laser pen. Some children are happy to be needled in certain parts of the body but not others, in which case the treatment may be carried out partly with the laser pen and partly with needles.
When used properly, laser pens are completely safe. Even the most state of the art laser pen delivers a very low-level laser which does not have the power to damage tissue.
Paediatric tui na
Paediatric tui na is a wonderfully effective system of massage. Whilst being a systematic, medical treatment, it developed out of a mother’s innate instinct to stroke, touch and caress her baby or young child. Therefore, it is practical, intuitive and easy to deliver. Babies and children usually love it.
Paediatric tui na involves using a variety of different movements, ranging from stroking to tapping, on different parts of the child’s body. The areas that are used are ones that are easily accessible on babies and young children.
I tend to use paediatric tui na on babies and children up to the age of approximately seven. However, there are times when it may be suitable for older children too. I will put together a routine that is specific to the needs of your child and will often teach it to you so that you can perform it on your child at home too. Paediatric tui na may be used on its own but I will sometimes combine it with needles, moxa or laser acupuncture.
Shonishin or ‘children’s needle’
The Japanese term shonishin, meaning ‘children’s needle’ refers to a method of treating children that dates back to the 17th century. However, it is a method that does not actually use needles. Instead, various tools are used to stroke or tap areas on the child’s body.
Shonishin is a light and non-invasive method of treatment which can bring about profound changes in a baby or child. I may use it on its own or combine it with another treatment method. It is used with a wide range of babies and children with different conditions, from premature babies to teenagers on the autistic spectrum.
If your child suffers from a condition which, in Chinese medicine terms, is energetically cold, I may use the ancient technique of moxibustion as a part of their treatment. Moxa involves warming an acupuncture point with a herb (dried mugwort). There are various different ways of applying this warmth and which one I use will depend largely on the age of your child. The most common way is to hold a cigar-like stick of lit mugwort close to the point, but not touching the skin. Most children love moxibustion and find it very relaxing.
Cupping is another ancient technique which has been used in Chinese medicine for many centuries. I may use it on your child if they have an acute condition, such as a cough or cold. I may also use it if your child has a pain condition, such as a sports injury. Cupping involves placing either a glass or silicone cup on a part of the body with the use of suction. Most children find being cupped fun. Once they have experienced it once, they tend to ask for it every time!
At the end of a treatment, I may put a press seed on a specific acupuncture point either on the body or the ear. This very gently stimulates the point. Once it is on, the child will usually forget it is there. I will give you a supply of press seeds so that you can replace them when necessary, together with instructions on how to do this.
Paediatric tui na and shonishin can be taught to parents to perform at home. There are several reasons why I often ask parents to give their child “treatment” between their visits to the Panda Clinic:
- Having some small treatments between appointments means that your child’s symptoms improve more quickly
- Many parents appreciate the opportunity to participate actively in their child’s wellbeing. It can be excruciating for a parent to feel helpless in the face of their child’s suffering. Having something to do alleviates this feeling.
- The treatments I ask parents to do at home involve a lot of soft, caring touch. 5 minutes or so of this a day can enhance a relationship between parent and child. This has myriad benefits!