Children often respond well to acupuncture treatment. [Photo: Bigstock]

Acupuncture eases chronic pain in children

21 December, 2015

Natural Health News – It is upsetting to see anyone in chronic pain, but it’s especially heartbreaking when that person is a child.

In addition to the suffering itself, chronic pain can have profound effects on a child’s quality of life, and significant physical, psychological and social consequences. Chronic pain in a child can also impact parents and caregivers by causing feelings of helplessness and inadequacy.

Treating children with chronic pain can be complex, due to kids’ vulnerability while they’re growing and the fear of causing long-term effects. To make matters worse, studies into the therapeutic options for treating children’s pain is limited.

What you need to know

» Chronic pain – from headaches, abdominal pain, back pain, musculoskeletal pain, scoliosis, leukaemia, sports injuries and Crohn’s disease – is much more common in children and young adults than most of us realise.

» There is evidence to show that acupuncture is helpful in relieving pain in adults but studies on children are relatively rare.

» This small study looked at the effect of 8 individually tailored acupuncture sessions on pain in children aged 7-20 and found that substantial pain reductions as well as significant improvement in quality of life and emotional health.

“Effective treatment of pain can be particularly difficult because it’s subjective; but with children, it is increasingly difficult because a child may not be able to communicate effectively depending on the age and accurate recognition of pain,” says Angela Johnson, MSTOM, MPH, practitioner of Chinese medicine of Rush’s Cancer Integrative Medicine Program.

Johnson led a recent study that found that acupuncture may be a safe and effective add-on integrative medicine treatment for chronic pain in children. Results of the study were published in Alternative and Complementary Therapies.

“While acupuncture has been shown to reduce pain in adults, there is very little data on whether it’s effective in children.” Johnson says. “This study looked at the effect of acupuncture in children directly, rather than examining data collected from adults. This focus is especially important, since children experience pain in different ways than adults.”

Not stuck with pain

Chronic pain is pain that lasts weeks, months, or even years, and is estimated to affect 20-35% of children under age 18 worldwide. Although sometimes dismissed as ‘growing pains’, several conditions can cause chronic pain in children include headaches, abdominal pain, back pain, musculoskeletal pain, scoliosis, leukaemia, sports injuries and Crohn’s disease.

The researchers looked at 55 children and adolescents between age 7 and 20 with chronic pain. Each child received up to eight individually tailored acupuncture treatments lasting 30 minutes.

All patients reported significant and progressive declines across all levels of pain throughout the eight-session treatment, with the strongest effects experienced during early treatment. Participants also reported substantial pain reductions from the start to the end of each session. Additionally, patients reported significant reductions in health, emotional, social, and educational problems.

These findings were corroborated by parents’ observations of their children’s pain and behaviour.

“Acupuncture provides an amazing alternative to chronic pain medication. This is especially true for patients who may have to cope with pain for most of their life, including those who have sickle cell anaemia and aftereffects of cancer. In addition it helps with anxiety and depression,” says Paul Kent, MD, co-author of the study and paediatric oncologist at Rush.

This study contributes to the relatively sparse literature on the use of acupuncture in children, and supports the notion that acupuncture can be an effective strategy for managing chronic pain.

“The results of this study suggest that acupuncture can have a profound positive impact on the health and well-being of children who experience the disabling effects of chronic pain,” Johnson says.

She hopes to expand her research to larger groups of children in order to understand more about how acupuncture can help relieve their chronic pain.