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ACUPUNCTURE

Acupuncture may be defined as the insertion of needles into specific points on the body to produce a healing response. Each acupuncture point has specific actions when stimulated. This technique has been used in veterinary practice in China for over 3000 years to treat many ailments with horses among the first animals - due to their importance in daily life.  Modern research shows that acupoints are located in the areas where there is a high density of free nerve endings, mast cells, small arterioles, and lymphatic vessels. Most acupoints are motor points. A great number of studies indicated that the stimulation of acupoints induces the release of beta-endorphins, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters. Using functional MRI, the basic tenets of acupuncture have been proven. Those are that acupuncture is based on the point selected, the method of stimulation, and the duration of stimulation. It has been shown that acupuncture points that have pain relieving properties associated with them activate specific pain-association brainstem regions. The US National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine (www.pubmed.gov) has over 25,000 research papers on acupuncture in humans and greater than 400 animal-specific articles as of February 2017.  
Acupuncture is a sought-after treatment by horse owners due to its "Demonstrated safety & minimal unwanted side effects." It is well tolerated by horses and provides a drug-free approach to musculoskeletal pain that can enhance equine performance. This is particularly beneficial for competitors that must strictly adhere to show association mandated prohibited substance policies.

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Your Questions, Answered

WHAT DO THE NEEDLES DO?

Acupuncture needling causes micro trauma that in turn causes a local inflammatory effect. This inflammatory effect results in an increased local tissue immune response, improved local tissue blood flow, and muscle and
tissue relaxation. Some acupuncture points are known as “trigger points."  These are tender areas found in
skeletal muscle associated with a tight band or knot in the muscle. The principal trigger points in a muscle are
located at its center in the motor endplate zone.  This is where the nerve ends in a muscle and causes the muscle to contract. Besides using acupuncture points for treatment purposes, reactivity of acupuncture points can aid in diagnosis. When palpated, these points might show some sensitivity if there is a problem at that point or with the acupuncture meridian or pathway that is associated with the point.

WHEN IS ACUPUNCTURE INDICATED?

Clinical trials indicate that acupuncture therapy can be effective as a supplemental treatment in the following conditions in horses:

  • musculoskeletal problems: muscle soreness, back pain, neck pain, osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease, obscure lameness, laminitis

  • gastrointestinal disorders: diarrhea, impaction, chronic colic, gastric ulceration

  • neurological disorders: seizure, laryngeal hemiplegia, facial and radial nerve paresis

  • other chronic conditions: heaves (COPD, RAO, asthma), anhidrosis, uveitis, behavioral problems, Cushing's disease, hypo- or hyperthyroidism, infertility, renal failure, geriatric weakness, skin problems, performance enhancement and prevention of disease

  • Quality of life, cancer, and hospice care

ARE THERE SITUATIONS IN WHICH ACUPUNCTURE SHOULD NOT BE USE?

  • fracture

  • infectious conditions

  • open wounds

  • pregnancy

WHAT ARE ACUPUNCTURE METHODS?

Diagnosis:

An acupuncturist’s diagnosis is based, in part, on conventional Western methods: obtaining a thorough medical history, discussing the primary complaint and goals for improvement, performing a physical exam, blood work, radiographs, ultrasound, etc. A diagnostic acupoint palpation exam will be performed that will identify particular painful acupuncture points, indicating local and referred pain.

Treatments

Dry Needling:

  • Most common. Modern acupuncture needles are 0.5 – 3 inches long, ultra-fine, and made of a flexible stainless steel. They are pre-sterilized, non-toxic and disposable. Depending on the condition being treated, 5 – 30 needles will be inserted and left in place for 5 – 30 minutes.

  • Stimulation of acupoints by needles can be done by rotating the needles or attaching electrodes to send a weak electrical current through the needles (electroacupuncture). Research has shown varying physiological responses to different types and frequencies of electronic pulses applied to acupuncture points. Electrostimulation is useful for neurological conditions such as facial nerve and radial nerve paralysis, and for non-responsive pain, especially in the lumbar area.

Moxibustion:

  • Heating the needles directly with a burning moxa herb (moxibustion) or heating an acupuncture point over the skin indirectly may be indicated in certain conditions. The herb used is commonly called “mugwort.”  In horses the most commonly used is indirect moxibustion to treat chronic muscular and arthritic pain.  It has also been used on lower back points when treating equine reproductive disorders and around chronic wounds to promote healing. 

Aquapuncture:

  • This is the injection of a fluid into the acupuncture point. While initially treating the point with acupuncture (needle being placed through the skin into the point), this process also leaves behind a liquid that continues to stimulate/treat the point with pressure (due to displacement of tissue by the fluid) and/or irritation over a period of time as it is absorbed. The most commonly used fluid is Vitamin B 12. 

Hemoacupuncture

  • This is a procedure whereby the acupuncture point is bled with a hypodermic needle using a technique similar to the one in humans where a finger is pricked for a blood sample. It is most commonly used in the treatment of acupuncture points in the coronary band area (“Ting Point Therapy”) and other points on the extremities (head, legs, tail). There are TCM implications as to the characteristics of the blood that comes out. Hemoacupuncture is mainly used with cases of laminitis and as a distal treatment.

HOW LONG DOES EACH ACUPUNCTURE SESSION LAST?

Each session may take between 20 – 45 minutes.  The first session usually takes longer than follow-up appointments

HOW SOON CAN WE EXPECT RESULTS?

Some results can be seen immediately but others will require several treatments.  Generally, a minimum of 3 to 5 treatments 1-2 weeks apart for chronic conditions are needed before one can expect notable improvement.

HOW MANY TREATMENTS ARE NEEDED?

The number of treatments depends on the nature, severity and duration of the disease/condition. Treatments can be done daily, weekly, monthly or even further apart depending on the severity and chronicity of the condition.  A single treatment may be enough for a very acute condition but generally 3 – 5 treatments are necessary to obtain results for chronic conditions. Some animals may need to be treated at regular intervals to prevent recurrence of degenerative conditions.

WHO IS QUALIFIED TO PERFORM VETERINARY ACUPUNCTURE?

Only licensed veterinarians are qualified to practice veterinary acupuncture.

HOW OLD DOES MY HORSE HAVE TO BE?

Acupuncture can be performed at any age from foal to senior!

HOW SAFE IS ACUPUNCTURE?

Acupuncture is a safe medical procedure when performed by a qualified veterinarian. Very few negative side effects have been reported in clinical cases, but they do exist.  An animal’s condition may seem worse for up to 48 hours after a treatment.  Other animals can become lethargic or sleepy for up to 24 hours.  These effects are an indication that some physiological changes are developing, and they are most often followed by an improvement in the animal’s condition.  However, acupuncture is NOT a replacement for conventional veterinary medicine.

DOES ACUPUNCTURE HURT?

More than 95 percent of human patients tolerate acupuncture very well and experience profound relaxation. Typically, acupuncture will produce a tingling or “heavy” sensation at the acupoint. Most animals tolerate this well and progressively relax throughout the duration of the treatment.

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