Veterinary Acupuncture is a complementary treatment that is increasingly being recognised as a useful treatment for a wide range of conditions. It should be stressed that the term “complementary” is the correct term for the use of veterinary acupuncture, as this therapy complement our conventional veterinary care. It is an adjunct, not a replacement, although in some situations it can be used as a sole treatment.
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture involves the insertion of a needle through the skin at predetermined sites (called acupoints) for the treatment or prevention of disease, alleviate pain, improve recovery rates and increase resistant to diseases. By law, acupuncture can only be performed by a qualified veterinary surgeon that has undergone special training in the technique. This is because it is an invasive procedure that requires a thorough knowledge of veterinary anatomy and physiology.
How does acupuncture work?
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) explanation:
The Chinese approach to disease is very holistic. Health can be defined as a state of harmony of an animal with complete physical, mental and social well-being. Traditional acupuncture is based on the belief that an energy (called Qi) flows through the body in pathways called meridians. When Qi doesn't flow freely through the body, this can cause illness. Acupuncture can restore the flow of Qi and so restore health by stimulation of specific points (acupoints).
Western Scientific explanation:
For those that don't believe in the TCM, modern studies have revealed that 95% of the acupoints are close to nerve trunks or nerve branches that carry impulses to the spinal cord and brain. This results in responses within the nervous and endocrine systems leading to the release of neurotransmitters and hormones triggering to the following mechanism among others:
Release natural painkillers.
Promotion of blood flow.
Stimulation of the body's built-in healing mechanisms.
Relaxation of shortened muscles.
What conditions can acupuncture be used for?
Acupuncture can be used as part of a treatment protocol for almost any medical condition with the exception of irreparable fractures and endstage organ failure. It is often used in combination with conventional veterinary treatment so the patient experiences the benefits of the combined effects.
In equine practice it is especially useful for treating:
Musculoskeletal problems such as: back pain, tendinitis, arthritis, laminitis, navicular syndrome, stifle, stiffness, temporomandibular joint pain.
Neurological problems: wobbler's syndrome, facial paralysis.
Respiratory problems: RAO, exercise induced pulmonary haemorrhage.
Gastrointestinal problems: colic, stomach ulcers, poor appetite, obesity.
Dermatological problems: urticaria, allergy, sweet itch.
Ophthalmic problems: recurrent uveitis, conjunctivitis, nonresponsive corneal ulcers.
Behavioural problems: headshaking, windsucking, stress.
Acupuncture techniques used in horses
Dry needling: this is the use of the typical acupuncture needles. Insertion of fine, solid, pain-free, metal needles through the skin, leaving them in place for a total of about 10-15 min. Some horses are needle shy and acupuncture may not be their favourite thing, but most are quite tolerant.
Aquapuncture: injection of a fluid into the acupoint to continue the stimulation of the point. I usually use vitamin B12 or Traumeel, a homeopathic solution.
Electroacupuncture: this procedure involves attaching electrodes acupuncture needles and applying a pulsatile electrical current to them. Surprisingly, most horses are very tolerant to electroacupuncture.
Moxibustion: this involves the burning of an herb (Artemisa Vulgaris) either on an acupuncture needle or over the skin at an acupoint.
Laser stimulation: a painless beam of laser light is used to stimulate acupoints, approaching the effectiveness of simple acupuncture. It is perfect for those needle-shy horses.
Hemoacupuncture: the acupoint is bled with a hypodermic needle. There are TCM implications as to the characteristics of the blood that comes out.