Tag: pediatric acupuncture

Close up of a 12 year old boy relaxing on an acupuncture table, getting cupping

Cupping for Kids!

A child laying comfortably on an acupuncture table getting cuppingWhen I introduce cupping to kids, they’re hooked.  They request it right away in every treatment.  Most of them even say that of all the tools I use, cupping is their favorite.

Cupping is a system that uses glass, bamboo, silicon, plastic or earthenware cups to create a suction on a person’s skin.  This is done by sucking the air out of the cup and placing it on the skin.  The skin is pulled upward into the cup to improve blood flow, open the pores and release tension in the area.  With kids, I use gentle cupping to improve stress, muscle tension, insomnia, inflammation and other symptoms.

How Does it work?

Parents often ask me how cupping works.  There are many explanations for the therapeutic mechanism behind cupping.

It starts with understanding the influence of heat in the body.

According to Traditional East Asian Medicine (TEAM), heat is a medical symptom.  Eastern medical practitioners aim to balance the level of heat in the body.  People – kids and adults alike – can have internal heat symptoms (those that are inside their body) or external heat signs (those that are visible and present on the outside).  Feeling hot at night time is an example of an internal heat symptom.  Red, inflamed acne, eczema or other skin conditions are visible external heat signs.

When I look for heat in a patient, I am monitoring a variety of body systems for its presence.  It could influence the patient’s body temperature.  They may have skin that feels warm to the touch.  They may complain of feeling hot more frequently than others around them.  However, some kids have signs of internal heat, but do not feel warm at all.  In this case, a pattern of heat symptoms and signs affect multiple internal body systems.  When excess warmth causes or aggravates health conditions, we see multiple body responses related to heat, such as these:

  • a dark red tongue color
  • a tongue with a bright red tip and/or a yellow coat across the top.
  • irritability, anger, frustration
  • difficulty relaxing and thus difficulty sleeping
  • nightmares, night terrors, restless sleep
  • dry skin and lips that have a red coloring to them
  • constipation or dry, hard, painful bowel movements
  • dark yellow or orange urine (not affected by supplements, medications or food)
  • strong smelling stools, urine or gas
  • red and painful acne, other red rashes or skin conditions
  • sore throat
  • skin that feels warm to the touch

There are too many signs and symptoms to list all of them here, but this is a start in understanding heat’s impact on the body.  Heat is most commonly found in children because they are young and active.  It is easy for them to fall into an imbalance that involves too much heat.

While heat sounds like a simple concept, it can become a very complex problem to treat, especially when it affects multiple body systems.  One way to clear heat from the system is to open the pores and vent it from the body.  Cupping is a fun and unique way to do this.  In this way, it cools a child’s temperature.  This includes calming their “internal temperature,” to decrease frustration, anger and irritability.

Another way to vent heat from the system is to relax the body and release physical or emotional tension.  Many children – primarily teenagers but younger kids too – have tension in their neck and shoulders.  Heavy backpacks full of text books and hunched forward postures from playing on iPads or computers have created a “neck and shoulder tension epidemic” in our culture.  We’re all guilty of promoting activities that add to this epidemic – me included.

Some children who have no symptoms of physical pain or stiffness still carry mental/emotional strain that can, at times, result in physical tension.  Cupping lifts the skin, opens up the surface capillaries and promotes fresh blood flow through the area.  This action restores blood, fluid and energy flow through the body.  In doing so, improves both physical and emotional relaxation.

You can learn more about how cupping works from this great Everyday Acupuncture podcast.

Does It Hurt?

Are you kidding me?  The first person to let me know if something hurts would be a child.  If cupping was painful, children would cry and beg not to come back, but my practice is bursting with children who beg and plead for cupping.

I completely understand why I get this question so often – no one wants to subject their child to something uncomfortable.  But rest assured – cupping is painless!

When I work with kids, they get to choose how tightly I place the cups, similarly to how adults get to direct the strength and depth of a massage.  I start out very gentle and pay close attention to what feels comfortable for the child.

Teenagers may request stronger cupping if they’re dealing with acute or chronic pain, because if feels good similarly to a deep massage.  Younger children tend to stick with gentle cupping, as the taste for a stronger round of cupping develops with time.

What About Cupping Marks?

Kids do receive marks from cupping.  However, because I use gentle cupping on kids, they are usually not very dark.  They do not look like pictures of famous Olympic athletes or other adults who have received cupping.  Kids don’t have nearly the level of tension in their muscles as adults do.  The more tension a person has, the darker the cupping marks.  Also, I don’t leave cups on kids for long periods of time, because, well – let’s be honest – kids don’t lay around in one position for very long.  I let the cups rest for anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes and then we move on.  The longer a cup stays on one position, the darker the mark.

Here is a picture of cupping marks on a 7 year old child – you can see that they are not very dark.  These types of marks last about 3 – 7 days, depending on the child’s ability to heal.

7 year old child raising his t-shirt to show the light red circles leftover from cupping on his back.

What Does It Help With?

The first thing that I see change after a few treatments with children is their sleep.  Sometimes, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep is the result of a more complex condition.  If so, it may take more than just a few balancing treatments to remedy.  Other times, all they need is a little bit of heat clearing and balancing and they tank out right around bedtime.

12 year old child receiving cupping on her upper back12 year old child receiving cupping on her right shoulder and upper back.

As mentioned earlier, teenagers (and some children) deal with constant aches and pains.  They carry around heavy bags and sit at computers for hours at a time.  They get repetitive motion injuries from being very active in sports.  They also get stiff from being very inactive while sitting all day long in school.  Neck and shoulder pain, tension headaches, back pain, hip pain, even abdominal pain have responded favorably to cupping in the past.

Stress responds favorably to cupping as well.  Environmental influence, dietary response, home or school interactions and political tension all contribute to an increase in mental/emotional stressors for our kids.

Children and teenagers have the opportunity to learn stress coping methods and to form a resilient mental/emotional landscape from a young age.  They can create lifelong habits to decrease their stress by trying treatments like cupping early.

In addition to sleep challenges, pain and stress, cupping is also used in treatment for anything involving heat and the list is extensive.  Here are some of the conditions that may benefit from cupping:

  • ADHD/Attention Issues
  • Asthma
  • Acute Ear Infections
  • Bed-wetting
  • Common Cold or Flu
  • Colic
  • Constipation
  • Developmental Disorders
  • Digestive Issues (chronic constipation or diarrhea, abdominal pain, etc.)
  • Chronic Ear Issues
  • Eczema or Rashes
  • Fever
  • Insomnia
  • Migraines/Headaches
  • Chronic Sinusitis
  • Teething
  • Chronic Urinary Problems

And more…

Kids truly enjoy pediatric appointments at Light & Dark Acupuncture because the tools used are new, interesting and adventurous.  Cupping, which is typically included in each pediatric session, is no exception to the rule.  Not only is cupping okay to do on children, it is painless and effective and they absolutely love it.

To learn about more tools used in Light & Dark pediatric sessions, check out The 5 E’s: What to Expect In Non-Needle Pediatric Treatments at Light & Dark Acupuncture.

Come try out cupping!
Pediatric foot being massaged in a non-needle acupressure session

The 5 E’s: What to Expect In Non-Needle Pediatric Treatments at Light & Dark Acupuncture

So, you want your child to experience the benefits of acupuncture but you think they won’t go for needles? That’s what non-needle options are for!

Believe it or not, most kids love acupuncture.  About 60% of the kids who attend pediatric appointments at Light & Dark Acupuncture choose to try it.  You can learn about how this works in my last article, Acupuncture, A Unique, Responsive and Lovable Treatment for Children.  

About 40% of kids stick to only the non-needle acupuncture techniques and virtually all of them choose to try this fun and unique healing system.  It’s helpful for parents and kids to know what to expect in these treatments.

What Does a Pediatric Non-Needle Treatment Involve?

There are many options for non-needle pediatric sessions.  I usually recommend Shonishin coupled with a bit of tuina or shiatsu (Chinese and Japanese styles of therapeutic bodywork). I provide a “home treatment,” an acupressure-based protocol, when it applies to or when families request it. In addition, kids may choose to receive:

 

What is Shonishin?

*Shonishin* is a Japanese acupressure system.  This painless, non-invasive, non-needle system involves tapping and brushing on acupuncture meridians and points to create a therapeutic effect.  When we use our Western minds to analyze this Eastern system, we believe that it activates the immune system, relaxes the nervous system and decreases inflammation, though there is a deficit of studies on shonishin, so we do not yet have sufficient evidence to prove this.  However, science often proves things we have known for many years through observation.

According to Eastern philosophy, a shonishin treatment helps a patient’s Qi (pronounced “chi”) flow smoothly through the body and it balances the body’s yin and yang.  By doing this, shonishin can be helpful for pediatric disorders and discomforts, such as insomnia, anxiety, enuresis, digestive disorders, ADD/ADHD, autism, anger and frustration, and so much more.  For a full list of conditions typically treated by shonishin, visit the “Shonishin” page at www.lightanddarkacu.com.

The 5 E’s

Non-needle treatments are not always what you imagine they will be. You and your child may have expectations or anxieties. To help you know what to expect and relieve those anxieties, here are the 5 E’s: What to Expect in Non-Needle Pediatric Treatments at Light & Dark Acupuncture.

1) Examination

I examine patients through questioning/listening, palpation/touch, looking and smelling.  Patients and parents provide crucial information about the patients’ symptoms at the beginning of the session.  This is followed by an examination of the patient’s tongue, pulse, face, abdomen, ears and skin.  When necessary, basic western exams may be added, such as listening to the heart or lungs, reading oxygen levels with a pulse oximeter, taking the temperature, etc.  I do not examine or treat locally any clients’ private areas, but I can still treat symptoms that involve those areas, such as wetting the bed, constipation, etc. using acupuncture meridians and points found elsewhere on the body.

2) Encouragement

Treatment remains focused on goals that the patient and the parent define. Families to define what feels “right” and “wrong” to them.  For instance, many families have children who wake at night time and come to their parents’ room to get in their beds.  Some families are exhausted by this and have difficulty sleeping when their children join them.  Others love every minute of it and dread the day that their children no longer want to snuggle up to them at night.  I value each family’s experience and use it to guide the treatment.

I listen to both patient and parent concerns and enthusiastically celebrate every step towards success on the journey, even very small ones.  In this way, children learn to be process-oriented so that they can understand and sustain their health goals.  

Identifying health goals is a great first step, but setting up sensible, easy and sustainable health habits is what makes these goals attainable.

3) Enlightenment

Patient and parent education shows up in every session.  Education can involve many subjects, including:

  • Connections between mind, body and spirit
  • East Asian traditions and lifestyle suggestions for improving sleep, boosting immunity, calming the mind, decreasing pain, etc.
  • Acupressure points for improving your child’s symptoms
  • Dietary recommendations from Eastern traditions, and how these dietary philosophies correlate to what we know about inflammation, food intolerances, allergies, etc.

I like to forewarn parents that we will be talking about food and beverages because I know that for many families, food choices can be a frustrating topic.  Each family is truly doing the best that they can.  But nutrition is so important and it is always worth discussing.  In traditional East Asian medicine, food and beverage choices are the most powerful way to positively impact any health condition.  Specific dietary choices that are used for sports injuries, weakened immunity, attention, focus, and other ailments.

4) Easy-going Environment

While parents often expect that pediatric non-needle sessions will be quiet, spa-like sessions, this isn’t always the case.  Some kids come in, lie down and relax as I work on them.  Other kiddos don’t want to slow down.  

I use all the calming techniques I know and when they do not leave the child in a relaxed state, I move towards offering a playful and creative environment.  These fun and active treatments are as powerful as relaxing ones and children love them.

I follow the flow of the child to determine the each session’s activity level.  This way, children can feel comfortable to be themselves.

5) Empowerment

Kids have full control over what type of treatment they receive.  I make the environment one where asking questions is encouraged and where a child can feel safe refusing, slowing down, or waiting on any aspect of treatment.  This is so important in building trust with children!  There is no need to pressure them to try tools they’re uncomfortable with, because they always find a few of them that they love.

I explain to the kids I work with that I am going ask permission to use each tool on them, and that I am not going to use any tool that they don’t want me to use.  I explain that none of the tools hurt and that I will demonstrate each one on the table or on myself and ask if they would like to try it.

Kids use their newfound sense of control very wisely.  Once they have tried all of the shonishin and non-needle tools I have to offer, they start to pick their favorite ones and they tell me all about why they love them.  While most children love cupping, others state that their favorite tool is moxibustion, or shonishin brushing, etc.  Once I know a child’s preferences, I craft a non-needle treatment using those tools to stimulate the acupuncture/acupressure points specific to that child’s symptoms.

But the most important form of empowerment comes with time and repetition.  During each treatment, children learn about ways that their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health are connected.  I ask them questions like, “what did you eat for dinner the night before you felt angry in the morning?” and “what does anxiety feel like in your body?”  

The more kids reflect on these patterns, the more they take away the most valuable lesson that East Asian medicine has to teach; if you really listen to your body, it is telling you all kinds of things about what makes you feel good and what makes you feel bad.  

East Asian medicine teaches the lesson that your health is in your own hands – that even when unexpected, uncomfortable things happen, you don’t have to feel stuck.  You can empower yourself with tools to make your body the healthiest and happiest that it can possibly be.

In non-needle pediatric sessions, I empower the kids to take their health into their own hands, by doing home treatments, making good dietary choices, remembering to breathe deeply, manage stress levels and be active.  Sometimes it takes a while to cover ground in each of these categories – some kids may be resistant – but I find that by offering several dietary and lifestyle suggestions, kids and their families find what resonates for them and implement a few of these at a time.  The families who do this see improved treatment results and quality of life.

So, that’s the 5 E’s of what to expect in a pediatric non-needle session.  If this seems like something your children may benefit from, you can read more about these treatments on my webpage about Preparing for Your Child’s First Pediatric Session.  If you have questions, please call for a free phone consultation or book online.

I hope to see you and your children in my office soon!

Coming Up Next: Learn more about cupping to help children with insomnia, anxiety, anger/frustration and more in my next article: Cupping for Kids!

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Healthy child running through a field with the type of healthy smile that children who receive acupuncture wear.

Acupuncture: A Unique, Responsive and Lovable Treatment for Children

When I tell parents that I specialize in pediatric acupuncture, it’s like I’ve pressed the “Eject” button on an old VCR.  The look on their faces says, “No way!  There’s no way my child would ever try that.” Even parents who know and love me say things like, “Oh, I’m sure there are children who can handle acupuncture but my child is afraid of needles.  They would never do it.”

Let me assure you of one thing: Kids actually love acupuncture. 

Yes, parents know their children better than I do.  They’ve witnessed their kids crying at the doctor’s office after a shot.  They have begged and pleaded with their child to go to their annual appointment stating things like “There’s only one shot this time!  Only one.  I’ll get you ice cream when you’re done.”

Parents underestimate three things: the sweeping curiosity of children; the powerful impact of building patient-practitioner rapport; and (for those who have not tried acupuncture) how different my tiny pediatric needles feel compared to an injection at the doctor’s office.

I have seen kids make unexpected, adventurous choices when they are in a safe, trusting environment, thoroughly enjoying their treatment.  What I do in the treatment room is essentially the most gentle, relaxed, playful, and rather magical therapy that many children have ever seen.

A Gentle Introduction to Acupuncture

I never do anything that a child does not agree to.  They have to be the one that says, “Yes, I want to try that.”  So, if they’re really scared by the thought of needles, or as I call them “taps,” then we don’t use them at all.  No pressure, no pleading – I trust that children will try taps if /when they’re ready, because I’ve seen them do it.

When I work with children, I demonstrate for them how the taps work, using the acupuncture table, my own arm or a willing parent as my “tap model.”  I answer their questions and let them look at the taps.  They can see how tiny they are.  I explain why I call them “taps” – they feel like a gentle tap on the skin when I use them.

Parents who are convinced that their child will not try acupuncture “taps” often find that by the second visit, the child’s curiosity has gotten the best of them and they want to try it.  Curiosity is a powerful motivator.

A Safe and Inquisitive Environment for Learning

I encourage kids to ask questions – they ask the most thorough and curious questions!  We discuss the difference between a “tap” and a needle at the doctor’s office.  When kids, typically over 4 years old, want to discuss taps, I break down the myth that all needles are painful.  I demonstrate why and how some needles are easy and trouble-free.

I create a safe and comfortable environment for kids. I emphasize that not being ready to try new things is totally okay and I never push.  This helps them relax and enjoy the treatment.

Don’t worry about explaining acupuncture to your kids.  I discuss it with them in a way that builds patient-practitioner trust and helps them feel safe and comfortable.  If you would like to tell your children something about what to expect when you’re headed to your first pediatric acupuncture appointment, read my article on “Preparing for Your First Pediatric Session.”

A Quick and Painless Insertion and Extraction

Do you know how I know beyond an inkling of a doubt that “all needles are painful” is a myth?  Three-year old children.

Three-year olds think “tap taps” are just the most hilarious, interesting, and weird thing they’ve ever witnessed.  They really love them. The thrill that these kids display while trying taps is a testament to the fact that they don’t hurt.  They are so tiny that they usually cannot be felt on insertion.  Kids learn to distrust a sharp, pointy metal objects later in life. They do not have to fear acupuncture taps.  And typically, they don’t panic about them unless they have learned that fear from another experience or person.

Now, don’t worry.  With 3 year olds, and other youngsters, I put in the tap and take it right back out.  Like most of the parents I meet, I’m not betting my life on young children sitting still for two seconds!

Parents express concern that the treatment will be less potent when they involve a quick in/out movement instead of longstanding needle retention.  The beautiful thing about treating children is that they don’t need to be quiet and still to benefit from treatments.  As we say in East Asian medicine, their yang is already on the exterior of their body. This means that tapping into the systems that respond to acupuncture in a child is an instant process.  Kids’ nervous systems and immune systems are incredibly responsive and reactive.  Their bodies are poised and ready to respond to even the gentlest nudge.

When children give acupuncture a try they realize that it is surprisingly painless and they are willing to have a few taps at each treatment. But what about kids who really do not want to try taps?  Probably somewhere around 40% of the kids who visit my practice do not want to try acupuncture right away.  For these children, we simply move on to Shonishin, a painless, non-needle, non-invasive acupressure system, as well as other non-needle methods including cupping, herbal medicine, ear jewels or ear seeds and other techniques.

Coming Up Next: You can learn more about Shonishin and other non-needle options in my next article, The 5 E’s: What to Expect in Non-Needle Pediatric Treatments at Light & Dark Acupuncture.


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