By Dr. Robert Hunter, DVM
The history of veterinary acupuncture actually predates human acupuncture with evidence of meridian charts from BC in Asia. The practice has been popular in the Far East for centuries, where they have routinely performed surgeries on animals with acupuncture as the only analgesia and restraint!
Only for the last century have Western veterinarians given attention to alternative veterinary practices like acupuncture.
So why are American vets integrating acupuncture into their treatment programs? Could it be because it works?
Scientific research has proven the merits of acupuncture for pain relief, anti-inflammatory effects, reproductive and hormonal regulation and gastrointestinal disturbances among many other effects. Equine Acupuncture is currently recognized by the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) and the AAEP (American Association of Equine Practitioners) as an accepted and scientifically valid treatment modality.
Acupuncture involves the insertion of a needle through the skin at predetermined sites (acupuncture points) for the treatment or prevention of disease, including pain. The primary purpose of equine acupuncture is to treat the horse’s muscoloskeletal system. It is also a treatment used for chronic disease. The acupuncture stimulates certain pressure points in the body, causing a specific reaction.
Each acupuncture point contains a high density of lymphatic vessels, free nerve endings, mast cells and arterioles. When these points are stimulated there is a release of endogenous opioids, endorphins, serotonins and norepinephrine.
Equine acupuncturists observe the entire horse, and not just the point of the body that is diseased or injured. The practitioner will consider why the disease developed, and will observe the horse in its natural home surroundings.
Acupuncture treatment is meant to restore a state of balance, which is also known as homoeostasis. The treatment has an effect on the area of the brain known as the hypothalamus. It affects mechanisms in the brain that control blood pressure, pulse, respiration, hormone secretion, white blood cell production, and intestinal motility.
Equine Acupuncture Meridians
The Acupuncturist uses a “map” of the body, involving hundreds of points that largely fall along one of the 14 primary meridians. These points correspond to different elements of the body allowing them to understand what is going on with the body holistically. The meridians relate to the musculoskeletal system and internal organs. There are 12 main pairs of meridians and 2 unpaired meridians.
- Heart – Small Intestine
- Lung – Large Intestine
- Liver – Gall Bladder
- Pericardium – Triple Heater
- Kidney – Bladder
- Spleen – Stomach
- Conception Vessel
- Governing Vessel
One of the most often treated meridians from the list is the bladder meridian. Located on each side of the spine, it contains some of the most important points in the body. Each of these points is located along the meridians, and they control the flow of energy through the body. Problems occur when the flow of the energy is blocked, or it is not in balance. The goal of acupuncture is to balance the energy flow by removing the blockages.
The effects of acupuncture therapy cannot be explained in terms of a single mechanism, but rather a series of interactions between the nervous system, the endocrine system and the immune system. Anatomical examination of classical acupuncture points has shown that most of the acupuncture points are associated with certain anatomic structures of the nervous system. 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 principle 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.
Preventative Equine Acupuncture
Acupuncture treatments release enkephalins, endorphins, and serotonin, which all act as natural painkillers. Acupuncture is also useful in preventing disease and injury. Horses that are in prime condition and compete take part in a variety of exercises that can cause injuries that go unnoticed. Over a period of time, these injuries can build up, and can cause the horse greater injury because they will handle their body in ways that compensate for these smaller injuries. Through treatment and regular examinations, these injuries can be spotted early. Once the blood supply and normal functions are returned to the muscles, these injuries heal more quickly and the horse can continue to compete.
Equine Acupuncture Benefits
Conditions that respond positively to Equine Acupuncture:
- lung problems
- allergic bronchitis
- chronic cough
- reproductive problems
- ovarian pain associated with heat cycles
- internal medicine problems
- digestive tract problems
- excess gas
- neck problems
- nerve inflammation
- pain and stiffness
- neurological disorders
- behaviour problems
- nerve damage
- chronic pain
- musculoskeletal disorders
- laminitis – acute and chronic
- colic (acute and chronic)
Methods of Acupuncture
Besides the use of solid, typically stainless steel needles, other means of stimulating the acupuncture points can also be used. Some of them include electro-acupuncture, moxibustion, laser, and aquapuncture.
Electro-acupuncture uses small metal needles and electricity. After the needles are inserted, they are connected to an electrical stimulator. This stimulator delivers pulsing electrical currents between two or more needles to enhance the treatment.
Moxibustion uses the Chinese herb Moxa to apply heat to an acupuncture point. It is rolled into a stick and lit up. It is then held over various areas of the body. Moxa can also be placed onto the handle of an acupuncture needle. This allows deeper penetration of the heat.
While there is not much research on the effective use of lasers for acupuncture, new techniques are being developed. Lasers provide a beam of light to stimulate acupuncture points for just a few minutes, whereas the needles need to be applied for up to 30 minutes. The use of a laser also avoids the occasional discomfort associated with the use of needles for equine acupuncture.
The Aquapuncture process uses injected fluids such as antibiotics, saline and vitamins to stimulate the acupuncture points. These fluids effectively produce stimulation several days after treatment.
How do you know if your horse will benefit from acupuncture?
It is important that you look for a veterinarian who has additional training in veterinary acupuncture and chiropractic to treat your horse. Without a proper understanding of your horse’s anatomy and potential medical issues, a diagnosis and treatment plan cannot be made.
Most conditions will respond in 3-10 sessions. Sometimes you will see results within a few days – of course this depends on the patient and the condition. We recommend 1-2x weekly or monthly sessions followed by once or twice yearly “tune-ups”.
Some animals will become temporarily worse or sore following treatment and may need a few days off prior to resuming their regular work schedule. All horses receiving acupuncture treatment are required to have a current tetanus vaccination.
Give Hunter Stallion Station a call at (916) 687-6870 to see if your horse could benefit from equine acupuncture.
Tags: acupuncture for horses, alternative veterinary practices, equine acupuncture, Hunter Stallion Station, Sacramento vet