This month's question: What can acupuncture do for children? I know it can help some adult problems like pain, but why should I bring my child to acupuncture?
These questions are asked so frequently that we must have replied hundreds of times.
For most people, acupuncture is still strange and new: the thought of bringing your child is extraordinary, even to many acupuncturists! Our answer is simple: acupuncture can do a lot for your child. It is a very effective medicine and can be used to treat virtually anything for which you might go to your regular pediatrician. Furthermore, acupuncture works incredibly quickly in children. In fact, it works so well that we can actually cure many children of their disease.
This is an inflammatory statement and often provokes a heated response. "Cure" is a difficult word, so perhaps we should explain what we mean by a cure.
Can You Really Say "Cure"?
When we are controlling the symptoms and are in the process of strengthening a child, we call it treating. When the root cause of a child's illness is removed, we call it a cure. When we talk of curing asthma (a condition which we see frequently), we mean that the underlying cause of the problem is cleared, and the child does not get any more asthma attacks. Obviously this may not be possible for all children that we see. If a child is born very weak, it may always have weak lungs, but for many children it is possible to take away the root cause of their disease. When this happens, the symptoms that describe the disease no longer occur. We call this a cure.
Let us give an example of what we mean by the word cure by using the examples of rheumatism and asthma.
When I was in England, a large part of my practice was treating people over 60 who had rheumatic pain: aches in the muscles and joints. Usually they were worse in wet weather and in damp places. In England the weather outside is damp, except when it is raining! Many people live in old houses which are over 100 years old; they too are damp. That meant that they had rheumatism much of the time. When they came for treatment, it would normally take a just a few weekly treatments to perk them up so that they felt more cheerful. It would take only a few more to take away the pain, but after that, they would have to come for treatment fairly regularly. If they stopped coming, the pain would creep back. I would typically treat them about once a month for maintenance.
This could not really be called a cure. Although giving acupuncture is fundamentally different from giving a painkiller (a painkiller is deadening, while acupuncture is enlivening), the net result is that they still have the condition, and it takes ongoing treatments to alleviate the symptoms.
In contrast, let us look at a disease which we do often cure: asthma.
Curing Asthma in Children
To understand why we say we can cure asthma, one needs to understand why children get asthma in the first place. In our experience, asthma is a deep diseases, one in which there is always a lingering pathogenic factor (LPF). The LPF is the root cause of the child's getting asthma. It is not the only cause, but if the child did not have an LPF, the child probably would not have asthma.
LPFs are strange beasts. The idea behind them is quite simple: you get an illness, and you are never quite well after. In practice, however, it is quite complex. The LPF affects not just the physical body, but the emotions and spirit as well. In some way or other the child will be more agitated or more repressed than before. There is always something in the child's behavior which is not quite right. (We will discuss lingering pathogenic factors in another issue).
Without treatment, as a child gets stronger, the child gradually "grows out" of the asthma. We also notice that although the symptoms of asthma have gradually subsided as the child has gotten older and stronger, the pattern of LPF stays unchanged. This deep distortion of the child's emotions stays and, if anything, gets deeper. Over time the attitudes harden. What started as just a physical imbalance affecting a child's mood becomes an attitude problem, then a character problem. This is an important part of the disease of asthma. In order to effect a cure, you need to help get the child back on its feet, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. If you do not change this, the symptoms of asthma may return.
Now, when a child is treated using Western drugs, the physical part of the disease can be kept under control. By contrast, if a child is treated by acupuncture, there is a good chance that it will completely eliminate the LPF. Not only can you relieve the symptoms of asthma, you can really root out the underlying insidious LPF which is upsetting the child. This means that the illness will never come back. The child is cured.
Of course, it does not always happen this way. No one cures every patient who walks in through the door, but it happens more often than not. Let me give an example of a boy who really was cured, at least from my point of view!
A Child Who Got Better
Little Eric (the name has been changed) was just under one year old when he came in for treatment. The mother was at her wits end, for Eric was on quite large doses of inhaled steroids and albuterol. In addition, he kept on getting colds which quickly turned into coughs and brought on an asthma attack. These attacks were invariably treated by heavy courses of antibiotics. By the time he came in, he had received 10 courses of antibiotics during the previous six months. Not only that, but the antibiotics had stopped working. Not surprisingly, his mother was worried to the point of being terrified.
Treating him was really quite difficult, for it took quite some time before he was strong enough to cope with even the mildest infection. Typically I would give him eight or ten treatments. He would then get another cold which would precipitate an asthma attack, and so it was off to the ER.
Fortunately the mother stuck with treatments, because she noticed that although he had to keep on going to the ER, each time the attack was less severe than the time before. She noticed how he was gradually getting stronger and more able to fight off an illness.
This went on for quite a long time -- about 18 months. During the last six months, he was still coming weekly and still getting asthma attacks, but they were quite mild and could easily be managed by the family.
Throwing Out the LPF
When Eric was two and a half, he finally managed to throw out the LPF once and for all. He caught the flu. He did not have any sort of problem with breathing, which was rather unusual, but he did have a fever of 104o, which nothing would bring down. They tried Tylenol, which brought the fever down to 102o for two hours, but then the temperature shot up again. Surprisingly, he was quite cheerful during this time, and wanted his food as normal! This went on for five days uninterrupted. This was his final battle with the LPF. Since then, he has been one of the healthiest children I see. He never needs treatment, and when the family gets a cough, he is the one who does not get it!
There are many diseases like asthma in which acupuncture can remove the root cause. This is one of the most beautiful things about this medicine; being able to see deep beyond the symptoms to the root of the disease, and more importantly, having the means to treat the root.
To be fair, we are at an advantage treating children and babies. For most of them the condition has not been ingrained by years of conditioning and bad habits as it has in most adults! We all know it is easier to treat something of fairly recent origin rather than one that has manifested for 30 years. This is one of the reasons why we love treating children so much: acupuncture is so successful for so many of their problems. Furthermore, once the condition is cured, the child is freed from a potential of struggling through life one sickness after another and a bathroom cabinet full of medications. The child is given a new chance to really enjoy a life full of love and laughter.
If you have any questions about acupuncture, we would be glad to try and answer them. You may send them by mail or e-mail to us in care of Acupuncture Today. All questions will be treated confidentially if you so wish.
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