What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a unique therapeutic treatment which has been used on animals and humans for over 4500 years. It is one of the chief modalities used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), along with herbs and massage. Acupuncture has been used on animals in the West since coming to America in the 1970s and its use has been spread by dedicated veterinarians since. Acupuncture aids the body’s ability to repair itself. By inserting fine needles into specific points in the body homeostasis (balance) and relief from illness and pain is achieved.
Acupuncture can be thought of as bridging the gap between medicine and surgery. It is often used when an animal is no longer responding to medications or where potentially surgery is not feasible, i.e. in situations where the risks involved with surgery outweigh the potential benefits. In China acupuncture is often used as the primary treatment prior to conventional medicines and surgery.
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What conditions benefit from acupuncture?
The answer to this is very much everything, although some conditions are more responsive than others. All painful conditions will gain relief through acupuncture. The pain associated with arthritis and intervertebral disc disease is very well managed with acupuncture. Cancer pain can be alleviated also. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) fully endorses the use of acupuncture for pain management in animals.
There are many medical conditions that will benefit from acupuncture where there has been limited success with conventional medical therapy e.g. inflammatory bowel disease. Similarly geriatric animals do amazingly well with acupuncture and will regain energy and vigour through treatments. Many people express how much geriatric animals start to play again and interact with the family.
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How does it work?
There are two ways to understand acupuncture, these being the Western or Eastern explanations. There has been an extraordinary amount of scientific research conducted to understand its physiological effects while Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has its own remarkable way of explaining its effects on the body.
It has been found acupuncture points have a close connection to nerves and the vast amount of research shows acupuncture works by stimulating the central nervous system. This stimulation leads to the release of many chemicals and hormones which affect a vast number of biochemical and physiological changes in the body. As a result there is a synergistic spectrum of effects on the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, hormonal and immune systems as well as psychological effects.
Click here to learn more about some of the effects of acupuncture.
Eastern tradition states that the body is energy as well as matter (organs, muscles, bones, fascia, skin) and illness occurs when blockages to the flow of energy or depletion of energy occur. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) acknowledges a system of pathways called meridians that run throughout the body linking the external areas of the body, such as muscles and skin, with the internal organs. These meridians are said to carry “vital energy” called Qi. Where Western medicine looks for a specific cause and treats that cause by medication or surgery, TCM looks for a pattern of disharmony or imbalance in the body caused by blockages that disrupt the flow of Qi or lead to deficiencies of Qi. TCM then utilises specific acupuncture points to “re-balance” the patient. The conventional approach and TCM both work very well together and both have a role to play in the treatment of an animal. Acupuncture can be particularly helpful in providing relief from conditions where conventional medicine is no longer providing results. It is fantastic for geriatric patients. In many older animals that have acupuncture for arthritis many owners report an increased energy level and wellness to the point some dogs start playing like puppies again and become much more engaged with life!
When should acupuncture be used?
Acupuncture can be used to help with many conditions, in chronic and acute cases. It can be combined with conventional medicine and surgery for supportive treatment of a condition or used, in some cases, as the sole treatment. It can be used where an animal has responded poorly to conventional medicine or where the side effects of conventional medicine outweigh the benefits and so cannot be used. For example, older dogs are more prone to suffer from arthritis and unfortunately many have underlying kidney and liver disease which eliminates nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory treatment from being used for pain control. Acupuncture may then be used to provide pain relief and anti-inflammatory action. Acupuncture is the ultimate form of holistic treatment as the whole animal is looked at and multiple conditions can be treated at once.
Acupuncture may also be used where surgery is not feasible, such as where the risks of the procedure may outweigh the benefits or potentially where surgery is too expensive to be an option.