Acupuncture is a treatment which involves the stimulation of specific points in the body, usually by the insertion of very fine, pre-sterilised, stainless steel needles. This often superficial stimulation generates many responses within the animal's nervous and endocrine system. It can affect muscles, and the circulatory, reproductive, digestive and urinary systems, as well as antibody production and hormone output.
Acupuncture increases the body's release of natural painkillers - endorphin and serotonin and modifies pain pathways in the brain and spinal cord.
Often after treatment animals exhibit behavioural changes, with improved appetite and demeanour, as well as obvious pain relief. Some individuals are very responsive to acupuncture and will show dramatic improvement after one treatment. The vast majority however will respond gradually over a period of time. On average 4-6 treatments are required. These are given weekly initially with gradually increasing intervals, until the desired effect is achieved. The frequency of treatments depends on the individual animal’s needs, but regular top-ups are usually required to maintain the therapeutic effect. The needles are left in place for 10-20 minutes.
Sometimes other methods are used such as electro acupuncture.
Some patients along with some diseases are refractory to acupuncture and will not respond to treatment. We have found that elderly horses who are very stiff with or without joint / neck arthritis respond very well to acupuncture. Horses of all ages with back pain show greater comfort after acupuncture treatments. Acupuncture has proven a great adjunct to more traditional lameness treatments.
As each treatment is specifically tailored to an individual through extensive history taking and detailed examination, the protocol used will vary from animal to animal.
Helen Whitbread is a member of the Association of British Veterinary Acupuncturists (ABVA).