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Medical Acupuncture: What it is and what it is not

The practice of acupuncture, or the stimulation of the body with small metal needles, has been around for thousands of years. The practice of acupuncture has changed over the course of these many years from a bloodletting procedure, to the use of laser light to stimulate points. Interestingly, acupuncture practice was once outlawed in China in the early 20th century! As we have entered into era of medicine that revolves around scientific scrutiny and proof of effectiveness, the practice of acupuncture has found relevance in modern medicine. In the 1970’s veterinarians in North America consulted with human acupuncturists to help establish acupuncture points for animals. At that time Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) did not have any dog or cat point maps and only rudimentary mapping of the horse with about 12 points that were in no way similar in format to human point maps. With the help of human acupuncturists the process of transpositional point mapping began to shape the current point maps we now use. These points are based on the anatomical landmarks that coincide with various nerve plexuses, spinal nerve roots exiting from the spine, along major nerve routes, along fascial planes, and at nerve-muscle junctions. For the lack of better naming, these points are named for the channels or meridians that originally came from TCM and human maps.

In the last 20 years the research into acupuncture has greatly increased. There have been several studies of the effectiveness of acupuncture based on scientific evidence. This is especially true since the advent of functional MRI (fMRI) units and testing of various acupuncture points using this technology. These fMRI looks at the brain in real time and it can be determined when brain activity occurs when certain acupuncture points are stimulated. The difference between medical acupuncture and TCM acupuncture is in TCM the stimulation of these points is said move the energy (Qi- pronounced “Chee”) of the body to other parts of the body and opens the meridians to allow the flow of this energy (Qi). In medical acupuncture it is scientifically proven that it is the nerve transmission that actually stimulates the nervous system.

Medical acupuncture also known as neuroanatomical acupuncture stimulates the nervous system of the animal and helps the nervous system to modulate the body to heal on its own. One example is in the case of chronic pain. There are some nerves that are chronically over stimulated and in a “state of wind-up”, appropriate acupuncture stimulation can help the nerve to modulate into a more normal activity and relieve the chronic pain produced by the nerve being in “wind-up” state. A major part of this acupuncture is the examination of the animal to determine the location of the pain and to see if it is localized to one area or referred from other areas of the body. It also includes a detailed knowledge of the anatomy of the animal and knowing what is normal and abnormal in the examination. This type of work is ideal for the veterinarian trained in this modality, because of their knowledge of the anatomy and workings of the body. A veterinarian trained in acupuncture can produce tremendous results.

Medical acupuncture can help treat various diseases and disorders in the horse. The most common treatment is for back pain and other musculoskeletal problems. Other conditions treated are sinus problems, spasmodic colics, gastric ulcers, weeping eyes from clogged nasal lacrimal ducts, and some non-infectious respiratory problems. What medical acupuncture does not is take the place of more aggressive treatments for life threatening ailments, as in the appropriate treatment of surgical colic cases.

The use of medical acupuncture can aid in the treatment of some common problems in the horse. With the incorporation of this modality at Equine Medical Services, we can help facilitate the healing of your horse.