Teenage Acupuncture

Chinese medicine and acupuncture has proven successful at treating  ailments and their symptoms, helping teens to transition into a healthy and lively adulthood. Disorders such as acne, body image issues, insomnia and other sleep problems, depression, sports injury and eating disorders are common health problems among young adults.

Youth is considered the time when we are at the pinnacle of health. Our bodies are healthy and strong. Yet adolescents and young adults face a myriad of health issues that often go unchecked. The teenage years are a time of significant change and transition, a time when it is easy for the body to become unbalanced as physical growth and hormone fluctuations contribute to both mental and physical disorders.


Acne, one of the most prevalent and disrupting of teen ailments, is attacked at its root through Chinese medicine. Acne is defined as a common inflammatory disease of pilosebaceous glands. The top three patterns of acne in Chinese medicine are:

  • Lung Heat with Heat in the Blood – Heat upsurges to the face, causing pimples and heat and pain in a localized area. The effected zone will appear red with pusy eruptions.
  • Damp Heat in Large Intestine and Stomach – Red, swollen eruptions will appear on shiny, oily skin. Pus, itchiness and pain will also be present.
  • Spleen Dysfunction with Damp Phlegm – The spleen is unable to transport dampness, which turns to phlegm, which then turns to heat. A dull, red complexion, deep eruptions and slow healing with heavy scarring are will result.

Chinese medicine offers explanations for why different types of acne occur and creates complete treatments for these types. Of the at least six causes of acne, toxic heat is the easiest to treat, and most herbal formulas for acne fix this type. Diet and herbal formulas are the most common treatment options for acne.

Treating pre-teens, teens, and young adults can be some of the most satisfying work for acupuncturists, primarily because they respond so quickly to the acupuncture and the results can be life-changing.  Not only have I treated my share of young patients with aches, pains, and soccer injuries, but also I have worked with kids who were struggling with depression, anxiety, anger, insomnia, and stress.

The reason that acupuncture is so effective for adolescents is three-fold.  First, for the most part, they are young and healthy.  Acupuncture tends to be far more effective for someone who is healthy and able to heal quickly, as opposed to someone in their seventies or eighties who has been ill for a long time.

The second reason that acupuncture works so well for adolescents goes back to Chinese medical theory.  The Chinese say that children are considered to be pure Yang.  Compared to the nourishing, cooling, substance of Yin, Yang is warm, active, and transformative.  And that’s what kids do—they transform.  They are growing and changing almost daily, and it seems that as soon as you have one stage figured out, they have moved onto the next.  This is a good thing on the healing front.  Because kids are growing so quickly, they also heal quickly.  This is both good news and bad news, especially when we’re talking about adolescents.

The pure Yang thing can also work against kids, especially during the pre-teen and teen years. Good health, or balance in Chinese medicine is all about smooth flow, and for the most part, our kids grow and flow smoothly.  Unfortunately, as kids go through adolescence, they begin changing even more quickly. On top of the physical growth, kids are faced with increasing stress of school and peer relationships. Then Mother Nature throws in a dark cocktail of hormones to make that transformation even more…uh, interesting.  For some kids, this sudden growth, plus hormones, plus stress creates a perfect storm that can block the smooth flow of energy and emotions, causing a wide variety of mental health symptoms.

Emotional Health

Finally, acupuncture works for emotional health issues because it affects brain chemistry.  Researchers studying the effects of acupuncture have determined that acupuncture causes an increase in production of endorphins and other feel-good chemicals in the brain, causing a calming effect.  For this reason, acupuncture can effectively treat emotional conditions including stress, anxiety, depression, and panic attacks.


Another teen health concern is obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 15 percent (9 million) of American children and teenagers ages six to 19 are obese, while another 15 percent are at risk. These numbers are triple the amount from 1980. Obesity, which means the body is 20 percent above its ideal weight, is a serious issue that can lead to more complicated mental and physical health problems.

The treatment of obesity is of growing concern to Chinese medical practitioners in the West. The fundamental prescriptive methodology is bian zheng lun zhi – to base treatment on patients’ personal pattern discrimination. In this way, Chinese medicine addresses an individual’s metabolic reasons for being obese. For teens struggling with obesity, Chinese medicine practitioners can tailor a treatment plan using Chinese medicinals, acupuncture and moxibustion, and diet and lifestyle modifications.

Body Image & Eating Disorders

Other body image concerns affect teens and can lead to the disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, which are distortions in perception of one’s weight and body shape. Adolescent and young adult women are especially susceptible to worries such as these. Chinese medicine, especially acupuncture, addresses both the emotional and physical aspects. Treatment is aimed at restoring energetic flow and function, especially to the digestive system, which, when damaged by these disorders, impedes recovery.

Mental and physical relaxation through acupuncture, as well as the personal care involved, address the emotional scars left by eating disorders. Depression, anxiety, obsessive behavior, insomnia, social withdrawal and irritability are eased when the body and mind are brought into balance. The system of balance inherent in Chinese medicine carries over into the diet and nutrition systems, helping nourish the body in ways that are beneficial to the individual. Chinese medical nutrition plans can help teenagers feel more positive, healthy and balanced, which are important aspects of a healthy body image.

Poor Sleep

Poor sleeping patterns often exacerbate the mental pressure many teens face. Changes in the body’s internal clock, brought on by puberty, can lead to Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. This sleep disturbance can make night owl behavior normal, and later morning sleep desired. While teens need between nine and nine and a half hours of sleep per night to help the body properly repair cells, release growth hormones and strengthen the immune and nervous system, many teens fall far short of this number.

Studies have shown that some sleep disorders may be due to a deficiency of endorphins. Acupuncture is a useful therapy for this deficiency. During acupuncture, patients tend to become drowsy or fall asleep, possibly because of increased levels of central nervous system endorphins. Acupuncture balances deficiencies or surpluses in qi, which can disrupt sleep, and can help teens to regulate their body’s internal clock.

Attention Deficit Disorder

Attention Deficit Disorder is yet another ailment that impedes healthy functioning in teenagers. Chinese medicine addresses hyperactivity and frenetic symptoms, but also stimulates the organs in the body that control these symptoms internally. Although herbal treatments, acupuncture and massage do not have the immediate and dramatic impact of Western medical treatments, it treats the root of the problem. Acupuncture point stimulation affects neurotransmitters and messenger molecules, through which brain functioning can be changed. Again, balance is key, and Chinese medicine methods help patients to first achieve and then maintain the balance needed to overcome a variety of disorders.

Anger & Depression

Many parents don’t know where to turn when their adolescent is struggling with anger or depression.  Understandably, they’re hesitant to medicate their teen, but they also know that their child needs help.

The good news is that in these healthy, ever changing adolescents, acupuncture can be a life saver, which is so aptly expressed in the letter above.  If your teen is struggling, consider giving acupuncture a try.