About veterinary acupuncture
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a therapeutic method used especially in Eastern-Asian countries such as China, but also used in many European countries and Northern and South America. It is used both in man and animals.
How does acupuncture work?
According to traditional theories, acupuncture alleviates pain and cures disease by harmonizing the flow of energy Qi in the body.
Modern scientific research has confirmed that acupuncture operates via selective stimulation of the nervous system. A variety of neuro-transmitters and -modulators, as well as hormones are released in response to acupuncture.
These and other mechanisms help to correct existing dysbalance or deficit, in other words, modern science tends to confirm the ancient Chinese ideas that acupuncture works via modulating and reinforcing the body's healing and defence forces.
To cure disease by acupuncture, fine metallic needles are inserted into certain body areas, called acupuncture points.
The needles are left in place for 10 to 15 minutes, while being occasionally manually stimulated. Acupuncture is generally well-tolerated.
Sometimes it can be advantageous to increase the effect of acupuncture by electro-stimulation of the needles.
Alternatively, acupuncture points may be stimulated by injecting specific solutions. Two to four treatments, given over a period of one to four weeks, are usually necessary to ensure optimal therapeutic effect.
More treatments may be necessary in certain neurological conditions characterised by limb paresis or paralysis and muscle wastage.
Which conditions can be treated by acupuncture?
Major indications for acupuncture in dogs:
- back and neck pain
- pain, stiffness and lameness due to muscle or ligament strain, arthritis or joint degeneration, or irritated nerves
- nerve damage and the associated pain, limb paresis and paralysis, or muscle atrophy (wasting)
In horses, acupuncture is efficacious in curing:
- back pain
- neck pain & stiffness
- strained muscles and ligaments
These problems are manifested by pain, stiffness and muscle spasm. Usually, the affected horses are slow to 'warm up'.
Generalised body pain and stiffness
This highly distressing condition characterised by pain and muscle spasm can develop as a result of excessive body strain associated with training, competitions, or as a consequence of accidents. There seems to be a constitutional predisposition of the condition in particular horses.
Incorrect limb movement and lameness
Acupuncture can be efficacious in managing soft tissue injuries located in the shoulder, elbow, hip and stifle areas. These injuries can cause a uni- or bilateral limb stiffness, shortened stride, "choppy" or uneven gait, or lameness.
Soft and hard mouth
Some horses develop extreme sensitivity in particular nerves of the head and in the neck. The associated sharp pain can cause a range of riding problems such as excessive sensitivity on the bit, bridle lameness, head throwing or shaking, as well as resistance when turning the horse to a particular side.
The condition is manifested by excessive sensitivity of the horse on girthing, as well as during riding. Often, the affected horses tend to uncontrollably run away or refuse to go forwards.
The associated pain, behavioural changes and/or lameness may occur at irregular intervals and do not improve with "warming up". In some instances, associated muscle wastage and weakness are seen.
- Behavioural issues related to pain and discomfort
The rewards of acupuncture
Acupuncture treatment can be rewarding in solving particular riding problems related to pain, muscle spasm and stiffness due to soft tissue injuries. The affected horses are not necessarily lame but usually show signs of discomfort and distress manifested as
- Change of temperament and unusual behaviour: the horse becomes irritable, "hot", tries to bite or kick , rearing and bucking, uncontrollable running away or stopping, holding the tail to a particular side and so on
- Altered movement and posture: the horse disunites, changes the length and rhythm of its stride; tripping, crooked movement, high carriage of the head, an awkward posture
- Loss of strength, suppleness and flexibility: general loss of mobility, restricted side-bending, poor collection, lack of propulsion from behind, inability to track up
- Poor performance: lack of enthusiasm, refusal to jump & throwing of obstacle, slow take-off & lack of impulsion, lack of speed and so on
Could your animal benefit?
Acupuncture can be an effective alternative or complement to the conventional veterinary treatments given to your animal.
Acupuncture may be considered especially in those situations when conventional treatment does not bring about the expected clinical improvement, or when the use of particular drugs is associated with undesirable side-effects.
Is acupuncture safe for your animal?
In any veterinary and medical treatment, precautions should be taken to minimise any eventual risks and adverse reactions. Generally speaking, acupuncture is a safe and pain-free medical procedure, provided that it is carried out by a veterinarian knowledgeable in modern veterinary medicine, as well as in the art and science of acupuncture.
Dr Jan Still
Dr Jan Still is a fully qualified veterinary surgeon and a member of the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS).
He holds post-graduate diplomas in acupuncture and anaesthesiology and has a special professional interest in acupuncture, pain-relief, sport medicine, as well as musculoskeletal and neurological conditions.
Dr Still works in the Johannesburg and Pretoria area for appointments in horses.
Small animals are treated in Dr Still's rooms in Lonehill (a northern suburb of Johannesburg).