Acupuncture - What's the point?
Updated: Oct 15, 2022
Acupuncture is a branch of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM). Unlike Western medicine, which is based on diagnosis of a specific condition or disease, such as hock arthritis, TCVM looks to identify a pattern of disease, which occurs due an imbalance within the body. This imbalance, in turn, results in the manifestation of disease.
The practice of acupuncture involves the insertion of sterile, single-use needles into specific points of the body. Over 300 acupoints exist, and these points are areas where large collections of free nerve endings, blood vessels and inflammatory cells are present. Each point has local, and systemic effects.
Insertion, and stimulation, of needles has been shown to increase chemicals in both the site of insertion and blood which decrease pain and inflammation, and improve wellbeing. The needles can be stimulated by being twisted by hand, or with other tools, such as electro-acupuncture and moxibustion. Electro-acupuncture is an electronic machine which stimulates the needles at a particular frequency for a set amount of time, whereas moxibustion involves burning a herb close to the acupoint.
Apart from treating pain from musculoskeletal disease, acupuncture has been used to treat neurological disorders, including headshaking, laryngeal hemiplegia (roaring), and nerve paralysis. As the chemicals released during acupuncture are at elevated levels within the blood, they affect other body systems, not just where they are inserted. There can therefore also be a decrease in pain and inflammation in other bodily organs.
Although it is generally a safe and non-invasive procedure, acupuncture needles often create a sensation of pins and needles. Some horses may be needle phobic, and others may be very sensitive along their backs. Sessions are therefore tailored for each individual, and are ideally carried out in calm surroundings. A small amount of sedation may be administered during the session. However, in reality, most patients appear to ‘fall asleep’ during treatment, and stand quietly throughout. As the effects can be cumulative, the amount of sessions required will be discussed based on clinical findings.