The fine-tuned practice of acupuncture is more than random jabbing with needles. How does this strategic (and sometimes controversial) healthcare practice work in the body, what does it treat, and what are some of its many benefits?

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture originates from a traditional Chinese medicine practice that accounts for how energy in the body—particularly disruptions to people’s natural energy flow—contributes to ailments. Acupuncture dates back to the early B.C. era when needle-based treatment was first recorded textually as a prescribed treatment in China. Although its practice in Western medicine differs from its implementation in early Chinese medicine, the fundamentals of the practice remain the same.


Acupuncture remains controversial in the sphere of Western medicine, despite noted cases of success in treating a variety of mental and physical ailments. Part of this controversy stems from the fact that its success lacks a full scientific explanation. Acupuncture, as a physical practice, consists of the strategic placing of needles in different places across the body. These spots are called acupuncture points, and, according to Chinese medicine, approximately 350 of these points exist in each person. How does this needle placement help to improve an individual’s mental or physical health?

How does acupuncture work?

The 350 acupuncture points on the body are said to be linked to the larger network of energy in the body, or the “qi” (pronounced “chi”). They are seen as a connecting pathway for the qi. When this energy path is disturbed, it can lead to illness and disease. Acupuncture works by placing needles at various depths into acupuncture points to restore the balance of energy that is causing an ailment. The placement of the needles is not random. Rather, acupuncture practices focus on specific combinations of placements tailored to your ailment. Individual acupuncture sessions can often take an hour or more to complete.

Some Western medical professionals and researchers have attempted to explain acupuncture through a different lens than the qi: neuroscience. Rather than viewing acupuncture points as stepping-stones for energy paths, these neuroscientists view them as places where nerves and tissue are sensitive to stimulation. When the needles stimulate these spots, they activate natural pain relief from the body, as well as improving blood flow and increasing cell production. According to these researchers, these sensations can provide a sense of energy, strength, and relief for the person undergoing acupuncture treatments.

What does acupuncture treat?

Acupuncture is used to treat a variety of conditions, and many sufferers of these various conditions have experienced positive reactions to acupuncture sessions. Although its credibility is often debated, researchers have found that acupuncture can provide relief for the discomfort, pain, and unease associated with various illnesses, diseases, and medical phenomena. Acupuncture is often used to relieve pain in different spots of the body, such as the lower back, the knees, and the neck. As a result, individuals who suffer from conditions such as arthritis, spinal pain, and headaches or migraines may benefit from these sessions.

The practice can also be used to manage the symptoms of other conditions that exceed the need for pain relief. These include blood pressure irregularities, nausea related to chemotherapy, and fibromyalgia. Acupuncture can also have incredible mental health benefits, from boosting mental clarity to lowering stress hormones. For individuals with anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses, acupuncture can be a life-altering source of stress relief. If one suffers from seasonal allergies or a weakened immune system, acupuncture can help to introduce more red and white blood cells into their bloodstream, boosting their immune system in the process. Overall, dozens of conditions have symptoms that can be managed by implementing acupuncture into one’s treatment plan.

What are the additional benefits?

Acupuncture has many benefits that traditional Western medicine practices do not have. One of the most significant benefits is the lack of side-effects associated with acupuncture. The needles aren’t adding any medication into your body or bloodstream, so most people don’t experience any of the discomforting symptoms typically associated with other types of pharmaceutical-based treatments. Acupuncture is often (when performed correctly) painless; you likely won’t feel many (if any) of the needles during the session. Still, improperly placed needles can cause more harm than good, so it’s important to find a practitioner who is qualified to be administering acupuncture sessions before receiving treatment.

Another perk is that acupuncture can treat conditions in older children without exposing them to heavy-duty pharmaceuticals. If a child can lie still, then they can undergo acupuncture. Certain forms of acupuncture that focus on stress relief can be useful for kids who have behaviors like enuresis (bed-wetting) or separation anxiety. If you have a child who is dealing with a medical condition but is young enough to potential struggle with the side effects of mature medications, acupuncture might be a route to explore. Ultimately, it’s still important to consult a doctor before you or your family members visit an acupuncturist to find out if the practice could benefit your wellbeing.