An Approach to Equine Acupuncture



The word "acupuncture" has raised, and lowered, many horse owners' eyebrows recently. Some people swear by it; others shake their heads. Regardless of the reaction, acupuncture has created great interest in the equine industry.

Acupuncture (acus -needle, punctura -puncture) is defined as a technique for treating certain conditions. It produces regional anesthesia by passing long, thin needles (or other forms of pressure) through the skin to specific points. It stimulates these points on the body to alter various biochemical and physiological conditions in order to achieve a desired effect. "It is not a panacea, a cure-all," states Dr. Allen Schoen of Veterinary Acupuncture and Alternative Therapies in Sherman, Conn., "but where it is indicated, it works well."

The history of equine acupuncture dates back to the years 2000-3000 BC during the Shang and Chow dynasties in China. Interestingly, one of the first veterinary textbooks, "Bai-le's Canon of Veterinary Medicine," written around 650 B.C., was based primarily on acupuncture and its derivatives. It has been practiced in the Far East for centuries but has received little attention by Western equine veterinary practitioners until the last decade in the 20th century.

Acupuncture is theoretically considered a naturally occurring phenomenon. No one mechanism can explain all the physiological effects observed. This lack of concrete explanation causes some to disbelieve and doubt acupuncture's validity."

However, acupuncture is being utilized by an increasing number of veterinarians for various conditions. Many reputable equine associations have supported acupuncture as a sound veterinary treatment. If there is no one, simple explanation, then why do people use and support acupuncture? Because there is proof that it works. Traditional Chinese medical theories have documented these effects for 4000 years, based on empirical observations and descriptions.

Many horse owners appreciate the naturalness and safety of acupuncture. Side effects are rare and the horses are very receptive to the treatments. Acupuncture balances the body's own system of healing, allowing the body to initially heal itself.

For those who must see proof before they believe, acupuncture has been used to treat hundreds of ailments. In small animals, acupuncture is most commonly used for such disorders as hip dysplasia, arthritis, lick granulomas, certain types of paralysis and feline asthma. In horses, just to name a few problems that have successfully improved with acupuncture, back problems, navicular disease, muscle atrophy, tendon/ligament damage, founder (laminitis), "bleeders" (heaves), azoturia, colic and many other ailments.

There is a scientific explanation. Essentially, a domino effect occurs. Applied pressure on a specific point on the skin stimulates various sensory receptors (pain, temperature, pressure and touch). These receptors then stimulate sensory afferent nerves, or nerves that transmit impulses from the outer body to the central nervous system (CNS). These nerves send a signal to the CNS and then to the hypothalamic-pituitary system (located at the base of the brain). The hypothalamus-pituitary glands are responsible for releasing neurotransmitters and "natural pain-killing" hormones.

These substances cause subsequent effects throughout the body. They increase circulation, relieve muscle spasms, stimulate nerves and the body defense system and cause other numerous beneficial results.

Therapeutic effects are produced only when specific, pre-determined points on the body are stimulated. These points designate areas of increased electrical sensitivity. Selection is based on locating points on the body where stimulation will produce a beneficial change in the CNS by adjusting ongoing physiological activity.

Often the horses will drift off to sleep once these points have been stimulated. Treatments usually last from 30 minutes to an hour.

There are actually many modes, other than the traditional dry needle method, to stimulate acupoints. Alternate stimulants of acupuncture include electroacupuncture, aquapuncture, moxibustion (use of heat and combustion), laser stimulation, gold implants and acupressure.

The equine practice has recently related acupuncture to one of its most perplexing and troublesome disorders: lameness. Both the equine public and medical community seem to be hungry for a "magical solution" or "cure-all," especially when dealing with unsoundness. Yet, they seem sceptical of anything new or unfamiliar.

Acupuncture is often an excellent diagnostic aid in locating a lameness in reactive regions of the horse as well as assisting to eliminate any secondary problems that may arise from the lameness.

 

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