New York: Researchers who reviewed reports of acupuncture in kids have concluded that the treatment seems safe for the under-18 crowd -- but added that more evidence would be helpful to ensure that`s the case.
Although there were some instances of serious infections and other hospitalizations after a procedure gone wrong, an acupuncture expert said that when qualified practitioners are using the needles, there`s very little risk involved.
"When you`re dealing with children, you really would like to know about safety before you go ahead and try a new therapy," said Dr. Sunita Vohra, from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, who worked on the study.
That`s especially true, she added, "if you`re not sure about effectiveness" of a treatment.
Acupuncture is used as an alternative therapy for a range of conditions, including pain, headaches and constipation, but few large, long-term studies have examined either its effectiveness or its safety in youngsters.
Still, "Based on the available evidence, in trained hands, acupuncture is safe for children," Vohra said.
The review paper, published Monday in Pediatrics, includes data from 37 studies. Those range from "gold standard" randomized trials that compared side effects with acupuncture and other treatments, to single reports of acupuncture-related illness and injury.
In an analysis of 1,422 kids and teens getting acupuncture for a variety of ailments, there were "mild" side effects in 168 of them, or about 12 percent. Those included pain, bruising or numbness.
More serious side effects, noted 25 times in the reports, included a case of a 17-year-old French boy who was diagnosed with HIV after acupuncture treatment for tendonitis, a 16-year-old Japanese boy who had nerve problems when more than 70 needles were left in his body -- including one in the spine -- and 12 thumb deformities at one Chinese center in the 1980`s.
"There`s some pretty unusual circumstances," Vohra told Reuters Health. "Those sorts of things don`t really seem to happen now under modern-day circumstances."
"If practitioners had good training before, this kind of thing should completely be avoided," agreed Dr. Adeline Ge, senior Chinese medicine consultant with the U.S. National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
She added that acupuncture isn`t recommended for kids younger than two.
Acupuncturists are regulated differently in different states, Vohra said, and some national and state-wide organizations have lists of trained, certified practitioners.
Ge, who wasn`t involved in the new study, said that for parents, there are ways to make sure kids are getting safe, appropriate treatment.
First, they can get a recommendation from their kid`s pediatrician for a local, qualified acupuncturist. Then, "before they make an appointment, they definitely need to talk with the acupuncturist and discuss the medical condition. No matter the kid`s (age), I do highly recommend that the parents go with the kids, so parents can at least observe," she told Reuters Health.
Parents should especially make sure that the needles the practitioner is using are clean, and that kids` skin has been cleaned as well. Also, they should be wary of acupuncturists that offer very cheap appointments. The typical cost for a first session varies but starts at around $100, Ge added.
"In general, acupuncture is a very safe therapy," she concluded. "It should be good for kids. But consider their age, and we do need to be very careful and recommend that the parents are always involved."