Last year, an analysis in the journal Pediatrics concluded that acupuncture was safe for kids "when performed by appropriately trained practitioners," and officials at pediatric hospitals estimate that at least a third of U.S. pain centers for children offer acupuncture.

At age 17, Victoria Rust came down with pancreatitis, suffering waves of pain that kept her hospitalized for much of last year.

When medicine caused stomach bleeding and had to be stopped, a doctor at Children’s National Medical Center suggested acupuncture.

Rust and her mother agreed to let a physician place thin needles into her stomach and other spots; within minutes, the West Virginia high school student felt better.

“I was mellowed,” she said. “The pain didn’t come.” Children and needles may seem an unusual pairing, but doctors say a growing number of families are choosing acupuncture.

    Most Read Stories

Last year, an analysis in the journal Pediatrics concluded that acupuncture was safe for kids “when performed by appropriately trained practitioners.”

Officials at pediatric hospitals estimate that at least a third of U.S. pain centers for children offer acupuncture. The federal government’s National Health Interview Survey, which last asked about acupuncture in 2007, estimated that about 150,000 children were receiving needle treatment annually for conditions such as pain, migraine and anxiety.

“People will often bring it up before I bring it up,” said Jennifer Anderson, an anesthesiologist at Children’s who is also a licensed acupuncturist. Anderson and other doctors said acupuncture is a safe adjunct to traditional treatments. A 2008 review of studies published in the Journal of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology cited evidence that acupuncture is effective for preventing nausea after surgery in children and for alleviating pain.

Acupuncturists often develop ways to ease children’s fears, including describing the needles as little hairs.

Angela Gabriel, an acupuncturist at the Center for Integrative Medicine at George Washington University Medical Center, said some children are fearful of needles, but “by 8, 9 or 10, a lot of kids think it’s cool.”