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Veterinary Acupuncture

Although acupuncture has been used for over 3,000 years, only in the last 30 years-and especially the last 10 years-western medical research has been performed to investigate how acupuncture actually works and to demonstrate its effectiveness in controlled medical trials.  Acupuncture is recognized by both the American Medical Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association as a valid treatment modality useful in a variety of diseases.  Acupuncture has been used increasingly on horses in the United States over the last 20 years and has moved to the forefront as a treatment for musculoskeletal problems, chronic obscure lamenesses, and other health problems.

The use of therapeutic acupuncture as a treatment for many diseases was documented and developed in China as early as 1100-200BCE. Traditional Chinese medical practitioners attempted to document, define, and record the use of acupuncture to treat specific diseases.  It is difficult to translate these ancient concepts into modern medical treatments, however, even with the use of modern knowledge of the nervous system many of the ancient acupuncture treatments have been validated.

One hurdle for modern veterinary acupuncture concerns whether it is valid to extrapolate results from one species to another.  There are over 1,000 acupuncture points documented in humans.  The challenge for veterinary acupuncture research is to find those points that are also effective in animals, given their anatomical differences from humans.

Current medical research has given us a basic understanding of how acupuncture works.  Acupuncture treatments affect the body by stimulating specific sites rich in blood vessels and nerves.  These respond with feedback to the central nervous system.  In response to acupuncture, neurotransmitters such as endorphins are released into the bloodstream helping to reduce pain and provide muscle relaxation.

The most common condition treated with veterinary acupuncture is pain, particularly back pain.  Common owner complaints for horses receiving acupuncture involve the horse moving incorrectly.  Common owner complaints for dogs presented for acupuncture involve the inability to accomplish simple tasks the dog was previously able to accomplish such as jumping into a car or onto furniture.

Common uses for acupuncture in horses include back pain, decrease in stride length, signs of resistance (bucking, pinning ears, refusals, etc.), cross-firing, reluctance to take a lead, stiff or inflexible muscles, tendon problems, joint pain, navicular disease, laminitis, colic, infertility and heaves.  The list of common uses for acupuncture in dogs would be similar but might also include difficulty rising, vocalization (grunting, groaning, whining), decreased energy level, seizure disorders, allergies, and various degenerative neurologic conditions.