Acupuncture for JA: What You Should Know

Learn how this ancient medical practice may help with your child’s juvenile arthritis pain.

By Stephanie Watson

Kids often flinch at the sight of needles because they’re fearful of pain. But in the case of acupuncture, needles may actually help relieve pain from chronic conditions like juvenile arthritis (JA). 

Acupuncture has been a key part of eastern medicine for thousands of years. Over the last few decades, it’s moved from the fringes of western medicine and into the mainstream. Today, acupuncture is used to treat a wide variety of conditions, from pain to sleeplessness and nausea. As its popularity grows among adults, it’s also becoming a more widely accepted treatment for children with arthritis and other chronic pain conditions. 

What Is Acupuncture?                                
Acupuncture is based on the principle of an essential life energy called qi (pronounced “chee”), which flows through the body along 20 invisible channels called meridians. According to traditional Chinese medicine, any blockage or imbalance in this flow of energy leads to illness or pain. Stimulating various points along the meridians using fine needles is thought to correct the flow of qi and relieve pain.

Western medicine also has an explanation for acupuncture’s effects on pain. “Acupuncture promotes circulation, and thus reduces inflammation and muscular tension,” explains Michael Waterhouse, MA, OMD, LAc, an acupuncturist in Los Angeles. The practice also increases the production of natural opioid painkillers and causes the brain to release the chemical messengers such as serotonin and dopamine, which elevate mood and calm pain receptor sites in the brain, he says.

Does Acupuncture Work?
It’s hard to say whether acupuncture works for arthritis pain, because high-quality studies on the subject have been limited — even in adults. In children, the evidence is even more limited.

“There are studies of acupuncture for children with chronic pain, but it’s a hodgepodge of all kinds of chronic pain. There are no studies that I know of on the effects of acupuncture on children with arthritis,” says Lonnie Zeltzer, MD, director of the pediatric pain program at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital. But she adds, “That doesn’t mean it’s not effective.”

A 2015 study in Alternative and Complementary Therapies found that acupuncture may be an effective adjunct therapy for kids with chronic pain. And an earlier review in the journal Pediatrics found the practice safe “when performed by appropriately trained practitioners.”

Some experts have questioned whether the pain relief noted in studies of acupuncture is real or the result of a placebo effect. In other words, people feel better simply as a result of having the needles applied to their body. Yet anecdotal evidence from doctors who perform acupuncture on their pediatric patients suggests that it helps.

“I have seen a lot of patients whose pain does improve with acupuncture,” says Monica Friedman, DO, chief of  pediatric rheumatology at Arnold Palmer Medical Center in Orlando. One of her patients experienced significant pain reduction with acupuncture. “Her pain was a 7 out of 10, and I got her down to a 4 out of 10.”

Trying Acupuncture in Children
If you want to try acupuncture on your child, it has very few risks — even in children. Side effects are usually minor — like pain and bruising at the needle insertion site.

One of the biggest hurdles is getting kids over their fear of needles. That’s where finding a certified acupuncturist who has experience working with kids can help.

“It is critical to the success of the treatment that the child feels comfortable with the idea of being needled,” says Waterhouse. “It is important to explain that these needles are like tiny hairs and much thinner than the ones that are used for vaccinations or taking blood.” Acupuncturists adapt the practice for children by using even smaller and thinner needles and by inserting less of them, he adds.

Before you start treatment, make sure your pediatric rheumatologist is on board with your child seeing an acupuncturist. “I think sometimes parents are afraid to tell their rheumatologist they’re using any kind of complementary therapies,” Dr. Friedman says. “Any parent who wants to use acupuncture should let their child’s rheumatologist know so they’re on the same page.”

Stay in the Know. Live in the Yes.

Join the Live Yes! Arthritis Network. Tell us a little about yourself and you will receive emails packed with the latest information and resources to live your best life and connect with others.

I Want to Contribute
I Need Help
  • Donate


    Every gift to the Arthritis Foundation will help people with arthritis across the U.S. live their best life.

  • Volunteer


    Join us and become a Champion of Yes. There are many volunteer opportunities available.

  • Live Yes! INSIGHTS

    Live Yes! INSIGHTS

    Take part to be among those changing lives today and changing the future of arthritis.

  • Partner


    Proud Partners of the Arthritis Foundation make an annual commitment to directly support the Foundation’s mission.


Ways to Give

Every gift to the Arthritis Foundation will help people with arthritis across the U.S. live their best life. Whether it is supporting cutting-edge research, 24/7 access to one-on-one support, resources and tools for daily living, and more, your gift will be life-changing.

Make a Donation

Help millions of people live with less pain and fund groundbreaking research to discover a cure for this devastating disease. Please, make your urgently-needed donation to the Arthritis Foundation now!

Become a Member

Become an Arthritis Foundation member today for just $20. You'll receive a year's worth of Arthritis Today magazine, access to helpful tools, resources, and more.

Make a Honor or Memorial Gift

Honor a loved one with a meaningful donation to the Arthritis Foundation. We'll send a handwritten card to the honoree or their family notifying them of your thoughtful gift.

Gift Planning

I want information on ways to remember the AF in my will, trust or other financial planning vehicles.


Volunteer Opportunities

The Arthritis Foundation is focused on finding a cure and championing the fight against arthritis with life-changing information, advocacy, science and community. We can only achieve these goals with your help. Strong, outspoken and engaged volunteers will help us conquer arthritis. By getting involved, you become a leader in our organization and help make a difference in the lives of millions. Join us and become a Champion of Yes.

More About Volunteering


Give Just 10 Minutes.

Tell us what matters most to you. Change the future of arthritis.

By taking part in the Live Yes! INSIGHTS assessment, you’ll be among those changing lives today and changing the future of arthritis, for yourself and for 54 million others. And all it takes is just 10 minutes.

Your shared experiences will help:

- Lead to more effective treatments and outcomes
- Develop programs to meet the needs of you and your community
- Shape a powerful agenda that fights for you

Now is the time to make your voice count, for yourself and the entire arthritis community. 

Currently this program is for the adult arthritis community.  Since the needs of the juvenile arthritis (JA) community are unique, we are currently working with experts to develop a customized experience for JA families. 

How are you changing the future?

By sharing your experience, you’re showing decision-makers the realities of living with arthritis, paving the way for change. You’re helping break down barriers to care, inform research and create resources that make a difference in people’s lives, including your own.

Get Started


Meet Our Partners

As a partner, you will help the Arthritis Foundation provide life-changing resources, science, advocacy and community connections for people with arthritis, the nations leading cause of disability. Join us today and help lead the way as a Champion of Yes.


Our Trailblazers are committed partners ready to lead the way, take action and fight for everyday victories. They contribute $2,000,000 to $2,749,000


Our Visionary partners help us plan for a future that includes a cure for arthritis. These inspired and inventive champions have contributed $1,500,00 to $1,999,999.


Our Pioneers are always ready to explore and find new weapons in the fight against arthritis. They contribute $1,000,000 to $1,499,999.


Our Pacesetters ensure that we can chart the course for a cure for those who live with arthritis. They contribute $500,000 to $999,000.


Our Signature partners make their mark by helping us identify new and meaningful resources for people with arthritis. They contribute $250,000 to $499,999.


Our Supporting partners are active champions who provide encouragement and assistance to the arthritis community. They contribute $100,000 to $249,999.