Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine that involves the insertion of needle into various parts of the body. Generally, the needles are very thin, and their placement is based on the condition that you are trying to treat.

Acupuncture originated in China over 2,000 years ago. It is based on the theory that an energy called qi or chi flows through the body, and illness is a result of something blocking the pathways through which it flows. The application of needles to certain parts of the body is thought to unblock the pathways, known as meridians. Acupuncture points are generally located along this pathway. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, illness is conceived as an imbalance between the human body and the environment.

Acupuncture gained attention in the US after President Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972. The delegation was shown a patient undergoing surgery fully conscious, using acupuncture instead of anesthesia. There is some debate about whether this and other reports and videos showing the use of acupuncture during major surgery are valid. In some cases, the patient was shown to have received other pain medication in conjunction with the acupuncture. Chinese surgeons no longer use acupuncture for major surgery. The general consensus is that acupuncture is an effective analgesic (pain reliever) but may not be suitable as an anesthetic (pain blocker.)

Proponents of acupuncture believe that it relieves pain, cures chronic illness, and promotes general health. From a scientific standpoint, it seems that the needling of acupuncture stimulates the nervous system. This stimulation sets off a biochemical cascade that promotes healing. Some acupuncture sites are frequently used, and their stimulation may set off a “whole body” healing process. Other sites may promote healing for a specific disease or injury. The timing of the process has been shown to be important to outcome as well. If the session is too short, the nervous system is not fully stimulated and the treatment may be ineffective. If the session is too long, the patient may be exhausted and overstimulated.

Generally, a modern acupuncture session is started with a physical examination and a review of the patient’s medical history. Acupuncture is highly individualized with each patient. The acupuncturist will look for landmarks on the body using muscles or bone and decide where to place the needles. The acupuncturist will then tap thin needles into the identified points, placing some needles deeper than others. Every acupuncturist is different, but generally the sessions last anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour. Usually, it is recommended that the patient undergo several sessions.

In recent practice, acupuncture has been shown to be very effective in treating mental illness and addiction. In both addiction and many mental health illnesses, a decrease in endorphins, the body’s feel good chemicals, is observed. Acupuncture has been shown to increase the amount of endorphins in the brain. Acupuncture also helps to ease the detoxification process in drug addicts and alcoholics. Many patients report a reduction in withdrawal symptoms, feelings of relaxation, and a decrease in craving.