Time for a Trip to the ‘Tickle Doctor’

Pediatric Non-Needle Acupuncture

by Paolo Propato and Grace Rollins

When a little one is faced with a chronic health issue, conventional medicine often leaves parents with few non-pharmaceutical options. Recurring ear infections, colic, GERD, constipation or diarrhea, asthma, allergies, eczema and hives, ADHD, sleep disorders and low immunity are among the common issues parents see in their kids today. Without knowledge of safe, natural medicine approaches, parents are faced with either medicating their kids, or feeling like they are neglecting the problem—and their children—by doing nothing.

Fortunately, there is a long tradition of safe and holistic pediatric treatment according to East Asian medicine, using non-invasive methods related to acupuncture. In Japan, pediatric acupuncture is called Shonishin, which translates literally to “little children needle”. Although they are referred to as needles, the flat metal or plastic tools used in a Shonishin treatment never puncture the skin.

After performing a diagnosis by learning the child’s history, observing and palpating, the acupuncturist uses Shonishin tools to manipulate specific points and regions of the body—gently stroking, tapping, scratching or pressing to achieve the desired result. As with acupuncture, the objective of Shonishin is to diagnose a pattern of energetic imbalance, and to stimulate points that will send a balancing message to the body. This message promotes the child or infant’s natural healing ability and the restoration of internal organ function, tissue health and energetic harmony.

Even though Japanese acupuncture already is very gentle, using thin needles and mostly painless stimulation, the entirely non-invasive techniques of Shonishin make it even gentler and not scary for kids and infants. The light scratching, tapping and pressing from the treatments can feel anywhere from calming and soothing, to exciting and funny. Children may end up calling their Shonishin acupuncturist the “tickle doctor”.

Another way Shonishin differs from adult acupuncture is in the short duration of treatments. In East Asian medicine a child is looked at as having an abundance of Yang and rapidly moving Qi, meaning the stimulation does not need to be strong to get change to happen in the child’s energetic pattern. Therefore, the duration of appointments only has to be five to 20 minutes—depending on the child’s age, constitution and problem.

Although treatments can be very short, some frequency of treatment is desirable in chronic conditions in order to get a new energetic pattern to stick. For those parents who cannot make it to the “tickle doctor” as frequently, one can learn a simple, individualized Shonishin routine to perform at home—empowering the parent to help bring their little one back to good health.

For parents or expectant parents, Shonishin should be kept in mind as a safe, painless tool to help children stay healthy and energetic.


Grace Rollins, MS, LAc, is the owner of Bridge Acupuncture, in Doylestown. She studied Shonishin in Osaka, Japan and has practiced acupuncture, moxibustion and shiatsu for 10 years. Paolo Propato, LAc, practices acupuncture and Shonishin at Bridge Acupuncture, as well as on his 1-year-old son Issa, at home. Connect with them at 215-933-9676 or BridgeAcupuncture.com. August 2014.


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