Treat Physical Problems With Equine Acupuncture

Acupuncture is becoming a more commonly accepted modality of treatment for physical problems of animals. Acupuncture is an ancient system, used mainly to treat chronic and painful conditions such as arthritis, headaches, and migraines in people. In animals, it is used mainly for pain control, arthritis, musculoskeletal problems, and nerve damage or irritation. Acupuncture has been used in animals for thousands of years. The origins go back to ancient Chinese times and are recorded in Chinese history. There are published references on the use of acupuncture in the treatment of elephants in India over 5000 years ago.

How Acupuncture Works on Horses

Morphine-like substances have been discovered in the central nervous system. These substances are called endorphins, naturally occurring morphines, and they have been found to be very effective in blocking pain. Endorphins are released whenever an acupuncture point is stimulated. Steroids, serotonin, prostaglandins and other chemical mediators are also released. The effects of acupuncture can be very rapid.

Methods to Stimulate Acupuncture Points

Needle acupuncture is only one way of stimulating an acupuncture point.Electrical stimulation is used in veterinary acupuncture in the United States. The technique is to connect up pairs of needles, by alligator clips, to each circuit of the machine, select the frequency, turn on, adjust the intensity to the comfort of the patient, and then wait the prescribed treatment time. In general, the stimulator is used therapeutically for conditions of severe pain, acute and chronic conditions, and nerve damage. Examples of painful conditions warranting the use of acupuncture include navicular disease, laminitis, and conditions where ordinary needling has failed.

Length of Treatment

A course of treatment varies depending upon treatment method used, animal response to treatment, scheduling, etc. Acute conditions may only need a few treatments whereas chronic cases will probably require several treatments. In general, two or three treatments are given to consolidate the effects of acupuncture (after the symptoms have gone), so strict adherence to the length of treatment may not be needed.

Indications for Acupuncture Treatment

  • Musculoskeletal/ Performance: This is perhaps the most commonly treated indication in the western world. Acupuncture is now widely used to influence the performance of the horse. It is not advisable to use an acupuncture treatment within 72 hours before a race, because any treatment will cause a sedating effect (endorphrin effect) as the healing process is activated.
  • Colic/ Ileus : Colic is a term that indicates abdominal pain. Acupuncture can be used to ease pain and promote motility, especially in the post-operative patient where hypomotility and ileus are major concerns.
  • Neurological/Psychological : Facial nerve paralysis, sweeney (suprascapular nerve paresis or paralysis), and radial nerve paralysis can respond to acupuncture therapy (usually involve the use of needles and electrical stimulation).

There are many other conditions that may be amenable to treatment with acupuncture.

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