Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM), which includes acupuncture, is a relatively new phenomenon to westerners. Acupuncture did not gain popularity in the United States until the 1970s. However, in a global sense, acupuncture is not new; TCVM has been successfully used in China for over five thousand years. In fact, the Chinese have been using, and recording, the use of TCVM in horses for over two thousand years. Today, acupuncture is practiced in all 50 states.
Acupuncture involves inserting very sharp, solid, thin, stainless steel needles in the body at very specific points in order prevent and/or treat disease, including pain. The acupuncture points are located where nerves either divide or penetrate tissue planes and where there is low electrical resistance and high electrical conductance of the skin. At these points are free nerve endings, arterioles, veins and lymphatic vessels and tissue mast cells. Through a complex cascade of events there is release of serum beta-endorphins, endogenous opioids, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Simply put, acupuncture needles stimulate nerve endings which send signals to the brain that then tells the body to produce chemicals and hormones that stimulate the body to heal.
An ancient Chinese acupuncture philosopher, Shen Nung, hypothesized that every person and living thing has an energy force that travels throughout the body. This energy force the Chinese call “Qi” (Chee). Qi consists of spiritual, emotional, mental and physical life activities. It is an essential part of everything in nature and is made up of two parts, yin and yang. Yin and yang represent balance of opposites, or positive vs. negative (for example, there would be no concept of light without dark). If the flow of Qi is disrupted, unbalanced or deficient then yin and yang become unbalanced and result in disease, illness and/or pain. Acupuncture will restore the balance and promote healing.
Prior to any acupuncture treatment, an acupuncture scan will be done. The scan consists of applying pressure over the acupuncture points and looking for reactivity, changes in temperature, and swelling or inflammation. The scan is very important and useful in obtaining a diagnosis as well as for finding sub-clinical problems. Your veterinarian will also assess tongue color, pulse quality, and ask questions to determine your horse’s constitution.
Many different conditions can be treated with acupuncture. Some of the most common conditions acupuncture is used to treat and/or manage include back soreness, osteoarthritis, bowed tendons/tendonitis, laryngeal hemiplegia, uveitis, caudal heel pain/navicular disease, laminitis, tying up, colic, ulcers, diarrhea, pulmonary disease, reproductive disorders, regulating ovulation, facial paralysis, allergies, non-sweaters (anhidrosis), SI pain, behavior problems, heart disease, liver disease, skin disease, insulin resistance, Cushing’s and WTEE (we’ve tried everything else). I do like to stress, however, that acupuncture works well with traditional veterinary medicine. It compliments routine veterinary care and is not a substitute or replacement.