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Beyond Western Medicine: Acupuncture

Manny, a spirited chestnut Arabian gelding arrived at Tacoma Equine Hospital for an eye exam. While talking with his owners, they said that despite getting his teeth done, he still chews his hard pellets in a funny way, with his head stretched out and chewing widely, something he had done for years! His physical exam was completely normal but, after performing an acupuncture exam, I suspected that there might be some issue with his temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and Stomach meridian. We went ahead and performed an acupuncture treatment, placing needles into Stomach 7, Triple Heater 17, Stomach 45, and Lung 7 bilaterally.

Manny was great for the treatment and the owners reported that, when offered his hard pellets that night, he no longer chewed funny!!! We started him on Adequan for any issues related to his TMJ and put him on a routine schedule for acupuncture once a month, which was then extended to an as-needed basis, and he has been doing very well ever since.

At Tacoma Equine Hospital we are dedicated to providing you with the best care and service available for your equine partner. With that in mind, our doctors have undergone additional education in complementary veterinary modalities including chiropractic and acupuncture. In this blog, we are going to introduce you to acupuncture, a versatile modality that gives us an additional option for treatment of pain and other issue.

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is an aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine and involves inserting small, sterile needles into very specific sites on the body to obtain a desired therapeutic effect.

How does it work?

Acupuncture works through several different mechanisms, both local and systemic. Locally, needles cause a release of inflammatory chemicals that promote healing as well as have an effect on the central nervous system. More globally, acupuncture can influence the brain and release endorphins, chemicals associated with pain relief. Acupuncture is also great at releasing “trigger points,” muscle knots that are often painful and can interfere with normal movement.

What can acupuncture be used to treat?

Since acupuncture seeks to achieve balance in each patient and helps the their own body heal itself, this modality can help with just about anything. It is particularly adept at treating any painful, non-infectious inflammation and neurologic issues. These include but are not limited to:

  • Laminitis

  • Musculoskeletal: cervical and back pain (intervertebral disc disease), tendonitis/desmitis, navicular disease, arthritis, and many more

  • Respiratory: COPD, laryngeal hemiplegia

  • Skin/Integumentary: allergies, wound healing

  • Geriatric Care

  • Eye/Ocular problems: conjunctivitis, recurrent uveitis

  • Neurologic: fascial paralysis, nerve damage, nerve paralysis

  • Gastrointestinal

  • Reproductive issues

  • Others: temporomandibular joint pain, behavioral problems

Are there any side effects?

Treatments are usually painless and there are virtually no negative side-effects associated with treatment. Sometimes patients can become a little sleepy or subdued during sessions but this will not be long-term. If there is a patient that does not like needles, a cold laser can be utilized to stimulate acupuncture points. Acupuncture is a very safe treatment option when performed by a qualified veterinary acupuncturist.

How frequently will my horse need to be treated with acupuncture?

Most conditions that are being treated with acupuncture were not formed in one day and so a cure usually is not obtained after one treatment session. Usually we recommend that the first 3 to 5 treatments be performed once a week. Depending on your horse’s response, we can determine when and how frequently we need to treat them again. In addition to discussing any herbs that might be helpful, we can also discuss any changes related to your horse’s environment or diet and any traditional treatment modalities that will improve your horse’s health. As both an equine veterinarian who also performs veterinary acupuncture, we can offer you numerous therapeutic options so that your partner can perform at his or her best!

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