Children’s Health Issues

Chinese pediatrics is an ancient art, dating back to the 1st century B.C. In comparison, western pediatrics did not become a medical specialization until the 20 th century. Regardless of longevity, both disciplines are valid and both have their respective strengths. Western medicine in general has made tremendous scientific strides in discovering specific anatomic and biochemical aspects of children’s bodies, leading to incredibly specialized care and surgical techniques. However, the massive amount of knowledge has forced a more segmental view of the child as the field of pediatrics branches into multiple subspecialties. Oriental pediatrics, as in adult medicine, views the child in a more holistic manner, integrating the physical, emotional, and energetic aspects into a single entity and searching for imbalances leading towards problems in one or more of these areas. Since neither discipline has a complete picture of the child, their approaches complement each other magnificently. Western knowledge and technology and eastern comprehensive understanding can merge and blend into excellent healthcare.

Oriental pediatrics is based on the Traditional Chinese Medical (TCM) principles of balanced qi, yin, yang, and organ systems. Qi is the vital energy which circulates in specific channels or meridians. It is also part of the blood, and moves within the blood vessels. It permeates organs and tissues and is the basis of all physiological processes. Health is the harmonious, uninterrupted flow of qi. Illness and disease ensue when there is a disruption of qi flow. The homeostasis of qi flow also balances the dynamic energetic opposites of the body, the yin and yang. These aspects must be balanced to ensure proper function of all aspects of the body’s systems.

Ideally, as in western medicine, the child is initially treated while still in the womb, through the balancing and maintenance of the mother’s energetic, physical, and emotional systems. After birth, the child’s skin is tender and delicate, and the pores are more readily open, so pathogens can easily enter. As is adults, they also commonly enter directly through the digestive and respiratory systems. However, due to an inexperienced immune system, these invaders tend to wreak havoc more quickly in young bodies. Thus, childhood illnesses tend to be characterized by rapid onset and change. If the qi is low, it can easily be overwhelmed, resulting in a child who seems perfectly fine at one moment, and quite ill the next. Also, lingering symptoms, such as a cough or unexplained fevers often occur. However, due to the lack of long-term imbalances typically found in the adult, recovery from illness tends to be as rapid as the onset, as the protective qi, or immune system, conquers the invading organisms. Using oriental medical techniques, the child’s immune system can be stimulated to overcome and eject the pathogens, greatly limiting the duration of illness. Preventative treatments can strengthen the immunity, thus blocking illness from taking hold at all.

As in adults, many variables affect the health of children. Genetic propensities certainly play a major part in the body’s response to illness and injury. In addition, the fast-paced American lifestyle has filtered down to the children as well, with more stress at home and school. The increase in prevalence of divorce and economic pressures in our culture can result in parents not being as available to children, and the additional extracurricular activities that are employed can add significant pressure on a child, manifesting as emotional difficulties or illness. Emotional imbalances in children respond exceptionally well to oriental medical treatments.

Children are exposed to environmental toxins from birth- from impurities in water and chemical residues from soaps and detergents experienced while still in the hospital to car exhaust, smog, and industrial fumes during their first car ride home. Although some toxins such as lead and mercury are routinely screened for, the majority are not detected, and can build up in young, vulnerable systems. Electromagnetic fields from televisions, computers, and video games can enter the body and be transformed into heat, leading to imbalances. Oriental medicine is highly effective at assisting the body in removing these toxins.

Synthetic medications are being given to children of all ages. While some are truly necessary, many are being administered indiscriminately, injuring the child energetically and physically. Topical medications, such as hydrocortisone creams, are absorbed through the skin and into the internal organs, but they are not typically monitored after being prescribed. Increasingly, very potent medications such as antidepressants and broad-spectrum antibiotics are being prescribed to very young children, disrupting the normal balance of flora and qi in the body. Even after lab results return to normal and medications are no longer detectable in the blood, there remains an energetic lingering of toxins or medicines which may affect the next dose or illness. These residues can be painlessly and easily removed during an oriental medicine treatment.

A child’s diet is usually closely monitored in western pediatrics during the first year. After that, adequacy in diet is often interpreted solely in terms of the child’s growth patterns. The same balanced diet is generally recommended to all children. Oriental medicine places much more emphasis on what, when, and how children eat. Whole foods are frequently recommended as dietary tonics to treat imbalances based on their effects on specific energetic meridians, blood, and qi balances. A food’s thermoregulatory properties are also addressed, i.e. its ability to heat or cool the body. The manner of eating and the time of meals are also considered to impact a child’s health.

Just as a child’s physical organs and systems are sensitive and vulnerable, so are the energetic flows. For this reason, standard acupuncture is typically not recommended for children under the age of 10 years old. Instead, a technique called Shonishen is used. This is a gentle, painless, noninvasive manual technique using various tools to massage, lightly tap, scrape, or roll over the acupuncture points and channels to affect the energy flow. This procedure is extremely effective and causes no discomfort to the child. Indeed, small children often view treatment sessions as a tickle-giggle game. Shonishen is most effective during the first 14 years of life, after which standard needling techniques are usually employed if the child is emotionally comfortable with the concept. The difference between western and acupuncture needles is explained, and the needles are slowly and gently introduced to prevent the typical fear that would otherwise prevent most children from exploring acupuncture. Please see the list of commonly treated problems.

All children get hurt from time to time- bumps and bruises are inevitable as coordination develops and physical boundaries are overcome. But how to minimize the discomfort for the young one without expensive trips to emergency rooms, doctor’s offices, and radiation exposure from x-rays? The answer is physical therapy, where various painless and non-threatening manual techniques and modalities can be employed to decrease pain, bruising, and swelling. The correct form of gentle exercise can then be taught the child and his parent to help stretch out sore muscles and joints and strengthen structures to prevent re-injury. With over 20 years’ experience as a physical therapist, I have treated children of all ages, from newborns in hospital nurseries to young adult athletes.

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