Acupuncture Helps Kids Manage Pain, Nausea


May 2, 2014
Brain & Behavior, Health

The pink plastic box thatCynthia Kim, MD, EdD, opens at the bedside of a young patient at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco looks like it might contain art supplies. But inside is everything she needs to provide an ancient form of pain relief.

Kim is one of three physicians within the UCSF Department of Pediatrics trained to perform acupuncture on hospitalized patients, making UCSF one of a very few academic medical centers to offer this complementary treatment to both inpatients and outpatients.

Kim, a hospitalist specializing in pain management and palliative care, grew up in Korea where traditional Chinese medicine was the first-line treatment for family ailments. Her pediatrics training in the United States schooled her in western medicine, but Kim now offers young patients the best of both worlds.

Kim, along with pediatric hospitalist Karen Sun, MD, and pediatric rehabilitation specialist Mitul Kapadia, MD, is a licensed medical acupuncturist­­ – a physician trained to provide acupuncture to hospitalized patients.

Her expertise is provided through the Integrative Pediatric Pain and Palliative Care (IP3) service, which provides both traditional and complementary pain management and palliative care for children at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco.

An Effective Complementary Therapy

In light of studies that have shown the benefit of this 2,000-year old treatment for conditions such as nausea, back pain, anxiety and headaches, insurance companies are increasingly covering acupuncture as a complementary treatment, said Kim.

About 3 million people in the U.S. currently use acupuncture as part of their health care, she said.

he IP3 team provided more than 200 acupuncture consults in 2013 to hospitalized patients. Most of the patients Kim sees are undergoing cancer treatment and use acupuncture to help manage chronic nausea from chemotherapy or to relieve discomfort from other aspects of their treatment.

Acupuncture has been shown to reduce nausea by up to 70 percent, according to Kim. The treatment, which very rarely has side effects, can also help with post-surgical pain.

Controlled studies of acupuncture in pediatric patients have shown its usefulness in managing nausea after surgical removal of tonsils and adenoids and following eye surgery to correct strabismus. It has also been shown to help reduce chronic headache pain in children. Just how acupuncture works is not well understood, but it may stimulate the release of neurotransmitters such as endorphins and serotonin or otherwise inhibit pain transmission.

Acupuncture is based on the theory that energy flows along meridians, or channels, in the body, and that blockages in this flow lead to illness.

Acupuncturists memorize thousands of pressure points along major and minor meridians that are believed to affect body functions, said Kim.  She often applies acupuncture to a nausea pressure point along the forearm, but points around the ear are also useful in managing the stress and anxiety that can accompany hospital treatment.

Laser Acupuncture Offers Alternative to Needles

Traditionally, acupuncture involves inserting very thin needles into the body, but there are a number of variations on classic acupuncture that are also effective, including adding electrical stimulation to the acupuncture point, or simply applying pressure.

Laser acupuncture is a particularly popular option for young children. It uses infrared light from a device that resembles a small flashlight to deliver an imperceptible dose of thermal energy to the pressure point.  Research has shown laser acupuncture to be as effective as needles, said Kim, which is a boon for young patients who may become anxious at the sight of yet another needle, even one that is painless.

“They’d much rather see me use my little red light,” said Kim with a smile.

Effective acupuncture is tailored to an individual’s personality traits, so Kim typically spends a half-hour with patients during treatments to get to know them. She clearly relishes the time she spends with each child.

“Acupuncture involves touching, and that is a part of the healing process that is not emphasized in western medicine,” she said.

After evaluating a patient to see if symptoms are likely to respond to acupuncture, Kim typically administers five treatments over the course of several weeks. She then teaches parents and children how to treat these same points on their own with acupressure. About half of the children who receive treatment during their hospitalizations also use acupuncture on an outpatient basis, often through the IP3 service’s weekly clinic.

Ongoing Research

Now that acupuncture is incorporated into pediatric care at UCSF, the team plans to add to the body of research on how it can best be used.

Kim is conducting a controlled trial using laser acupuncture on young patients who undergo renal biopsies each year at the children’s hospital. The biopsy involves inserting a large needle into the kidney, a procedure that can be painful and make patients anxious.

The study is comparing actual to sham treatment by means of pre- and post-treatment patient surveys. Preliminary data suggest a 50-percent decrease in the use of pain medications and anxiety, said Kim.


25 Responses to Acupuncture Helps Kids Manage Pain, Nausea

  1. 12110770 (J) May 4, 2014 at 11:11 pm #

    The fact that this Kim has knowledge about both fields,medicine and acupuncture, proofs that it really works.

    Acupucture has an immediate effect, because he exact pressure points are pushed. If you have a problem, why not go directly to the source instead of using medicine and hope the medicine goes to the cause of pain.

  2. u14120918 May 4, 2014 at 10:38 pm #

    Although acupuncure for me is slightly uncomfortable the results are always positive with no side effects.To realise such a small needle can cause such a huge relief is unbelieveable and that they have even gone futher and made acupuncture possible with a laser is just astonishing.

  3. u14119642 May 4, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

    Wow. It’s amazing to learn how acupuncture is being used together with western medicine in treatment of common ailments and discomforts. i’m amazed at how effective it is in reducing pain and treating conditions like back-pains and headaches, discomforts alot of people have from time to time. Its especially great to see how people with needle phobia are able to receive the alternative laser acupuncture, this could really save people the trauma of their fear of needles. Future prospects of acupuncture look promising, hopefully we’ll be able to see more application of acupuncture within our hospitals, which could possibly reduce the use of painkiller medication.

  4. Angela Thato Ume-njamma (u14448514) May 4, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

    acupuncture although not seen as an international or traditional medicine has been proven to be effective in relieving pain and discomfort. these types of studies have been reoccurring. I think the reason that this is so often is so that practitioners who practice this alternative medicine can claim that there is evidence supporting their practice, and can point to a long list of bad studies to the uninitiated who don’t know any better in order to give them an air of validity.

  5. 14055024 May 4, 2014 at 11:29 am #

    Acupuncture has been used by the Chinese for thousands of years for healing as well as the relief of pain and discomfort. I have had acupuncture and was amazed at the results. It is wonderful that Kim realises the anxiousness of children and uses the laser acupuncture instead. Although an ancient form of healing it also has been modernised (laser), this is great, with no side-effects.

  6. Nqobile_Sibiya_u14005477 May 4, 2014 at 10:48 am #

    The use of acupuncture in modern day treatment of pain and stress relief is a clear sign that there are some forms of traditional medicine of treatment that are timeless. Traditional acupuncture basically uses thin needles to pierce pressure points in the human body and thus give the feeling of relief. In the olden days it was used to as a form of distressing and of relieving people from their physical pain.

    It may be interesting to see how acupuncture is used to relieve children from their physical point as we know that children mostly have low tolerance when it comes to pain. This exercise may just make some pain more bearable for children who have to undergo procedures that cause a great amount of pain. What seems to be even more interesting is how acupuncture is evolving from what it originally was to what it is today. It is interesting to see how the practice has evolved from using just needles, that many people may fear, to using lasers which is just as effective as using needles. This shows how technology makes it easier for each field to evolve and improve from what it is to what it might be or it may have the potential to be.

    Acupuncture should be used more often and should be used as some form of therapeutic treatment for people who are in serious stress and for people who may be in serious pain. I am looking forward to seeing how technology will further advance the use and efficiency of acupuncture.

  7. u14121540 A.James May 4, 2014 at 5:46 am #

    I found this text extremely interesting, I would like to know if any other trials have been done with acupuncture related pain relief and if it has been as successful as indicated why then is it not a standard procedure at most healthcare facilities yet? Acupuncture seems to me to be a wonderful way to administer pain relief without any potentially harmful chemicals in pain relief medications, however I would also like to know what, if any, negative side effects this kind of acupuncture entails and what objection there is in western ,medicine to acupuncture.

  8. Reder van Rooyen 14196663 May 4, 2014 at 2:55 am #

    I read that acupuncture treatment is being covered more and more by insurance companies. Something I found very interesting taking into consideration that this falls in my course of studying. I have also had encounters with acupuncture before when receiving treatment for muscle spasm and eventually it also helped point out that the mentioned muscle was actually torn. What I really liked about this blog post is how Dr. Cynthia Kim takes time to get to know her patients, something that has been ignored with the main focus being making as much money as possible as quickly as possible. What is outstanding about acupuncture is, as is said in the post, the lack of any side effects if any. I feel this subject is still something fairly unfamiliar to a lot of people and I am 100% behind exploring acupuncture and then promoting it around the world. As stated in previous comments, I believe this line of therapy will help improve the health of many patients who might not be as financially equipped. What sets this apart from various other therapies is that it can be carried out from the comfort of your own home. I also think that more emphasis should be placed on teaching this form of therapy to aspiring medical personnel seeing that it has so much potential in promoting better health.

  9. u14106524 May 3, 2014 at 11:07 pm #

    it is really interesting to know that there are doctors that practice both western medication and acupuncture. using the laser acupuncture was a very smart move especially because kids don’t like needles or medication unless it’s sweet. i don’t have first hand experience with acupuncture like most of the people here but the knowledge that i have of it has really opened ma eyes and made me view medicine in a different manner. i do agree that further research should be done on the renal biopsy because it will open new doors of treating patients and maybe more health practitioners will use acupuncture to treat patients

  10. u14182506 .LS May 3, 2014 at 11:45 am #

    I have to agree with Lynette in saying that there has to be a balance in spiritual and scientific medical practises. The ability of accupuncture to relieve pain and leave the patient relaxed helps the patient to also think less about their illness giving them a more positive flow of energy. I think accupuncture is vital in the healing process as it deals more with the mind and spiritual part of things which is important. A patient with a strong mind and one who is strogner spiritualy can overcome physical illnesses much faster.

  11. u14087325 May 3, 2014 at 8:50 am #

    are all these different forms of acupuncture equally efficient ?
    if one regularly goes for acupuncture treatments won’t one body build a resistance towards the treatment?

  12. Rochelle - 14032211 May 3, 2014 at 7:42 am #

    Children and needles may seem an unusual pairing, but the fact that acupuncture can help with these problems it seems to me that children and needles may be a perfect match. Acupuncture has been an important part of medicine for thousands of years. The technique of acupuncture involves placing needles in various pressure points throughout the body, in this case where the child is experiencing pain. Stimulating these points is believed to promote the body’s natural healing capabilities and enhance its function, and this helps to relieve the pain or the nausea feeling. I truly believe acupuncture can be used in different aspects in the world of medicine.

  13. cherilee watson u14082277 May 3, 2014 at 6:18 am #

    This is a great step forward in bringing acupuncture into the medical field, people are very often skeptical of acupuncture as a treatment or to help the traditional treatment a patient is undergoing. I have had acupuncture numerous times on my neck and back this was done with needles by my chiropractor who is registered for acupuncture, i find it helps to relieve some of the tension before my chiropractor adjusts my body.I find the fact that they now have a laser form available fascinating this will greatly benefit the children undergoing treatment.Acupuncture has been used to treat animals with back and other injuries and has been a success.There is no limit to what this form of treatment can offer.

  14. Onkgopotse(14113504) May 3, 2014 at 4:44 am #

    This was an amazing entry that brought to mind how alternative forms of medicine were initially shunned by “western medicine.The combination of alternative medicine and “western medication”,which is a great idea when considering it in terms of what is best for mankind, in the case of acupuncture seems to have great results when used for pain relief and other such factors. This shows that further study into the use of alternative medication is worth consideration. The success of acupuncture and the use of medicinal cannabis to alleviate symptoms and for disease treatment are examples to warrant further study.Cannabis is used to alleviate the symptoms from diseases and those observed due to treatment. Cannabis is currently being used to treat symptoms seen due to chemotherapy and radioactive treatment. Thus looking into the use of other medicinal plants and methods to alleviate symptoms and reduce pain is a worthy consideration.

  15. kekana RT 14052327 May 3, 2014 at 2:45 am #

    i have always believed that the best way to heal people was by using only western methods..This study has proved that there always are two sides to a story.Merging western and ancient traditional ways of healing could be the solution to all our health crisis..Bioscientists and the older generation need to put their heads together and come up with magic.One other tangible example of ancient medicine helping alieniate some illnesses is the case of headaches and other body pains..Various herbs are available in abundance to help solve this.

  16. ordender(14106524) May 3, 2014 at 1:16 am #

    it is really interesting to know that there are doctors that practice both western medication and acupuncture. using the laser acupuncture was a very smart move especially because kids don’t like needles or medication unless it’s sweet. i don’t have first hand experience with acupuncture like most of the people here but the knowledge that i have of it has really opened ma eyes and made me view medicine in a different manner. i do agree that further research should be done on the renal biopsy because it will open new doors of treating patients and maybe more health practitioners will use acupuncture to treat patients

  17. cennic May 3, 2014 at 12:16 am #

    true totally true

  18. Michelle14028035 May 2, 2014 at 9:55 pm #

    This article is fascinating in its nature as I believe that alternative medicine is often not a primary choice when treating illnesses, and so the fact that many doctors’ are acknowledging its importance is an amazing feat for alternative medicine. I too feel that this field of study has not yet been fully explored and that remarkable benefits and uses are still on the horizon. As is said above, the incorporation of technology with old traditions is very interesting as it shows how old, traditional methods can be improved by modern technology.

  19. Zaleekhah Dawood (u14002532) May 2, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

    As part of the process in choosing my career path, I ensured that I explored every avenue of opportunity. This resulted in my exposure to much of the medical world before opting for a degree away from said path. This afforded me the opportunity to intern for a medical doctor in the Laudium vicinity and I was fortunate enough to witness first-hand as well as partake in the practise of acupuncture. While many modern-day medical practitioners are opposed to the contemporary idea of acupuncture, the almost instantaneous results I witnessed were undeniable. This form of medicine, despite its age, is remarkably beneficial to the patients it is administered to. Acupuncture is more than the cultural healing many believe it to be, but it is am art which takes years of patience, practise and understanding to perfect. The doctor I interned under practised both modern and Chinese medicine and allowed me the opportunity to learn more than a few of the more common pressure points which alleviate stress, tension as well as headaches and from personal use of the aforementioned points, I can confidently verify their effectiveness.

  20. 14105455 May 2, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    As a Korean, I can say that acupuncture is by far the most preferred method of therapy in Korean culture. It was used by our ancestors from hundreds of years ago and the results were always incredible. Some diseases which could not be explained by modern medicine were cured through acupuncture. I don’t think any medicine is better than the other but since acupuncture and modern medicines have their own pros and cons, I believe it would be wonderful if both medicines are performed together on the patient. Especially since acupuncture(needle therapy) does not require best technology at all, I think it will be preferred by the patients who are not financially privileged. Regarding the laser acupuncture, it may be painless compared to the needle therapy but I think it will be less effective. I also think that since the needles used in the acupuncture are extremely thin, the red light could not be as accurate as the needle therapy. I am not against the revolution of the acupuncture therapy but I just think that it would be better to keep the original method of therapy.

  21. u14020824 May 2, 2014 at 9:47 am #

    It’s good to see that alternative treatments (like acupuncture) are finally being used in conjunction with modern medicine. Treatments, such as acupuncture, often get overlooked in favour of western medicine. As mentioned in the article, acupuncture is a treatment that dates back to almost 2000 years ago, so clearly it must bring some form of relief to whatever symptoms the patient suffers from, otherwise this practice would have been abandoned long ago. It is also interesting to see that modern technology is being integrated with a practice as old as acupuncture.

  22. Kayla Beechey (14082153) May 2, 2014 at 9:38 am #

    I believe that what Kim is doing is fantastic and truly inspiring. Acupuncture has been around in the medical industry for ages. I know of many people who have used acupuncture as a recovery method and it has worked wonders for them. I believe that the laser acupuncture will work a lot better as many people do have a fear of needles, especially children. This method of healing will be a better time and cost effective way of healing. Acupuncture needs to be more recognized as a Medical procedure rather then a herbal/ spiritual myth as it has helped many people better their lives and will help many more in the future.

  23. u14004870 May 2, 2014 at 8:02 am #

    Acupuncture,as mentioned, is one of the oldest forms of treatment used to relief pain,stress and discomfort,That being mentioned it,is awesome that people, like Kim, use this sort of treatment in their practice.What is even exciting is that this ancient form of treatment is used to treat the recent generation.An individual,however ,may question the validity of this particular sort of treatment,if it is medically proven to be safe or if it has no negative effect on the human body in the long run.However, I ,for one, see no problem in this treatment I am even convinced that it will actually elevate the health treatment in the health practice.

  24. Abigail Dunkley (14027853) May 2, 2014 at 6:27 am #

    In 2011, I received acupuncture as part of my physio treatment for a pulled transversospinalis muscle. As a result, the treatment turned out to be successful with the muscle recovering from its state of spasm. If this proved to be beneficial in the case of muscle injury, imagine what could be achieved through the complete understanding of acupuncture. It takes 2-4 years to become a qualified acupuncturist, and with the acquired skills needed, acupuncture could prove to be a cost and time effective way of curing incidences of nausea and back pain. What needs to be done is to transform this treatment from a spiritual myth to an understood and practiced procedure so that people can use it as part of their healthcare and benefit from it as I did.

  25. Lynette (14111642) May 2, 2014 at 5:31 am #

    This is an amazing idea. As someone who has had acupuncture before, I believe it can do wonders. The laser acupuncture is a great idea, because young children often have a fear of needles. The use of this traditional healing method also proves that our world is not simply based on science, but that there has to be a balance between the scientific and the spiritual in the medical practices, because humans need the spiritual stimulation.

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