Despite holding a degree in electrical engineering, Alan Suhr arrived at the turning point in his life while working odd jobs in construction and landscaping in California.
One day, prodded by the pains in his wrist and shoulder, he visited Five Branches University in Santa Cruz, Calif., and was treated by an acupuncturist.
"He was telling me different things about various aspects of my body through my pulse. Suhr said. "They were treating my left shoulder, and they were sticking needles in my right arm, and I could feel it in my left shoulder. It was pretty amazing."
And it was a pretty amazing coincidence, considering the electrical engineering he learned at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology had a practical connection to the acupuncture techniques he studied and the Rapid City practice he runs, Thrive Acupuncture and Wellness.
Acupuncture medicine teaches that there is series of energetic pathways — think of a current traveling through wires — that run through the body. If the energy is stuck someplace or isn't flowing properly, Suhr said, problems arise.
Treating the acupuncture points on the right pathways can help regulate a person's energy and treat a variety of health problems, he explained. Inserting needles in those pathways can help re-establish the flow of energy to help the body regain a state of balance.
"My understanding of electric field theory, and the basis that everything in our universe is made of energy on a certain level, makes it easier to for me to understand how energetic pathways through the body work," Suhr said.
In mid-September, Suhr opened his practice in Suite 111 of 919 Main St., the building formerly occupied by Dusek Furniture. Suhr and his partner, Nicole Krueger, practice acupuncture and several other forms of traditional Chinese medicine.
The partners cite numerous studies that have shown acupuncture is effective in treating all sorts of medical issues, ranging from endocrine dysfunction to chronic back problems. It can also be effective in treating emotional illnesses such as stress, anxiety and insomnia.
Before starting treatment, Krueger or Suhr take a patient's pulse, then ask a series of questions to help determine exactly what the problem is. Krueger said the answers determine each patient's individual treatment.
"A person could say they're having a lot of headaches," she said. "Well, there could be eight different reasons for those headaches."
In addition to performing acupuncture, the clinic offers such traditional treatments as herbal supplements and physical manipulation mixed in with such modern approaches as an electrical-stimulation machine and a far-infrared heat lamp that emits wavelengths at different frequencies to penetrate various depths beneath a patient's skin. Both devices, Suhr said, promote healing.
Suhr said he took a long and meandering journey before he discovered Chinese medicine at the Five Branches University. After he graduated from Mines in 1995, Suhr realized he didn't want to sit at a desk solving engineering problems.
When his chronic pain became too much to ignore, he didn't think any traditional treatment could help. One day he saw a coupon for Chinese medical treatment in a local newspaper, he said to himself, "I guess I might as well check it out."
The success of his acupuncture treatments inspired him in 2009 to enroll in Five Branches from which he earned a master's degree in traditional Chinese medicine in a four-year program.
He later earned a certification as Master of Medical Qigong, after 2 1/2 years of education and training at the International Institute of Medical Qigong, in Pacific Grove, Calif. Medical Qigong manipulates the flow of energy for health benefits, but it does not use needles.
Krueger also holds a four-year master’s degree from Five Branches University.
Suhr said he decided to open up his business in Rapid City because it is his hometown and he has a lot of friends in the area.
Suhr and Krueger are both aware that people are skeptical of the benefits of acupuncture.
Krueger addressed critics who claim the only reason acupuncture works is the placebo effect, which is the theory that a treatment works only because people believe it works. She pointed to a study that concluded acupuncture helped animals that had ailments.
It's not as if an animal could be affected by placebos, she said.
Krueger said the clinic does not offer acupuncture treatment to animals.
Krueger also pointed out that acupuncture is still being used, 4,000 years after the practice was invented.
"Treatments that don't work generally don't stick around very long," she said.