So, what is acupuncture and how does it work? Acupuncture is literally translated into “placement of needles” and has been in use for centuries (see previous notes).
First, an explanation of what acupuncture is and a little bit of background on the theory. Acupuncture needles are placed into a patient in specific locations on the body corresponding with areas of sensitivity.
The points are similar in all species including humans, and are located on meridians, or highways, that run over the surface of the body. The meridians have different names, like “Large Intestine” or “Bladder” and loosely correspond to organs, or their attributes. Energy, known as Qi (Chi), run through the meridians like traffic on highways. Each point has a number on its meridian (Large Intestine-4), like exits off the highway. If there is a problem at an acupuncture point then Qi (energy), backs up just like traffic, and causes pain/sensitivity.
Back up of Qi at the points can be caused by different things, just as traffic jams can. Depending on the point on the meridian, Qi might have backed up due to back pain, pain in the foot, kidney dysfunction or a multitude of other reasons.
Acupuncture treatments involve placing needles into specific acupuncture points to alleviate stagnated Qi, relieve pain, and treat disease. The acupuncture practitioner looks at the animal holistically and evaluates clinical signs, similar to the way a traditional medical exam might proceed, and pieces it together with the sensitivity points to treat in an appropriate manner.
For example, an acupuncture exam may proceed as follows: the horse is examined as per usual (checking temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, ears, eyes etc), and then the veterinarian looks at other “Eastern” parameters, like tongue colour, pulse quality and strength, back and ear temperature, leg temperature etc. Then sensitivity points would be mapped on the body (where is the animal sensitive to palpation?) similar to a traditional lameness examination. Using the over all picture, the veterinarian would determine which points are best to treat and pick a modality.
Most common modalities:
Dry needle placement- Plain needles (much, much smaller than those used for vaccines etc) are placed into the specific points and left in for a period of time (usually around 15 minutes+)
Electroacupuncture- Dry needles are placed in specific points, and then electrodes are connected in a sequence, stimulating the points at a deeper level. EA is very interesting as you can see the muscles really jump and vibrate, letting you know that the needle placement is correct. Usually, the stimulation is turned down just below the muscle jumping threshold so as not to really annoy the animal (you can imagine how strange it feels to have your muscles jumping about).
Moxabustion- Needles are placed in the acupuncture points, and then heated via a stick that burns similar to incense. Moxa is a different method of stimulation altogether and allows a deep stimulation at the point.
Hemoacupuncture- Some of us have experienced this when we had our ears pierced as kids… just kidding! Hemo is the act of letting out a couple of drops of blood at the site of acupuncture points to help release Qi.
Initially, some of this may sound far fetched. However, before you jump ship and tout acupuncture as ancient bloodletting and snake oil, read on next week for the science of acupuncture. Using modern science, there is plenty of proof to back up what Eastern medicine has long practiced. Don’t let your Qi stagnate, open your mind!