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What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture was discovered and used for therapeutic purposes in China approximately 5,000 years ago. It was used shortly afterwards to treat horses. The American Association of Equine Practitioners recognizes acupuncture as a complementary treatment to traditional veterinary medicine for the relief of pain and as a means to prevent illness. Acupuncture involves the stimulation of acupoints, that have been mapped out for horses and other animals, usually with the insertion of fine needles to provide therapeutic effects. Acupuncture points (acupoints) are areas of high electrical conductivity. Because the nervous system has connections throughout the body, stimulation in one area can affect tissues and organs in another area of the body. When stimulated, they cause a chemical release of endorphins that act on the nervous system, as well local inflammation, which triggers the immune system and blood flow to the area. Endorphins cause physiological changes that control pain and stimulate organs and are also associated with immune system functioning and increased circulation, resulting in better oxygenation to tissues. Acupuncture can be used to treat a variety of conditions, especially musculoskeletal, chronic pain, and nervous system conditions, as well as for preventative purposes.

Acupuncture is not a replacement for traditional veterinary medicine by is a complementary treatment that should be administered on the advice of a veterinarian only and performed by a TCVM (traditional Chinese veterinary medicine) trained, licenced veterinarian. 

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Acupuncture Procedure in Horses

Acupuncture does not require any anesthesia or sedation and most horses tolerate it well. Several different forms of acupuncture for horses are available. 

Dry needling is the most commonly recognized form of acupuncture. A fine metal needle is inserted into an acupoint and rests there for 20-30 minutes. The therapist may manipulate or twirl the needle periodically. Different lengths and diameter needles are used and applied to different depths for various parts of the body to produce the desired effect. 

Electroacupuncture is a form of acupuncture in which an electrical stimulator is connected to the inserted needles and delivers electrical impulses during the therapy. This therapy is more often used by veterinarians for nerve disorders.

Moxibustion acupuncture is conducted by applying heat to the accupoint either through heated needles or by applying a heat source to the area. This is not as well tolerated by horses and may be used more sparingly in veterinary medicine.

Laser stimulation uses laser light to stimulate acupuncture points. Eye protection may be required.

Aquapuncture or point injection involves the injection of liquid, usually vitamin preparations (vitamin B) or saline to provide prolonged stimulation of the site.

Efficacy of Acupuncture in Horses

There has been much controversy over the years as to the effectiveness of acupuncture, however in recent years most veterinary practitioners recognize there is some benefit for pain management and musculoskeletal disorders. Studies have shown that acupuncture therapy reduces the amount of phenylbutazone that horses require to address chronic pain.

Acupuncture, when used in conjunction with western veterinary medicine, may be helpful for addressing a variety of other medical conditions in your horse and improving their recovery time.

Acupuncture Recovery in Horses

Acupuncture therapy does not generally require any recovery time and may aid in the recovery from other diseases and conditions. Your horse may experience some soreness and stiffness post-treatment but this is minimal and temporary. Multiple treatments may be necessary to address your horse's medical condition and chronic conditions may require ongoing therapy.

Cost of Acupuncture in Horses

The cost of acupuncture therapy ranges depending on the cost of living in your area and whether you are able to transport your horse for treatment or whether mileage charges are incurred. 

Acupuncture treatment in horses ranges from $100 to $200 per session. The first session, which includes an evaluation, is usually more expensive and subsequent therapy sessions are usually at a reduced rate.

Horse Acupuncture Considerations

Serious medical conditions should always primarily be addressed with traditional veterinary medicine. 

There is some concern that acupuncture can cause miscarriage in mares although this has not been well documented. Acupuncture in pregnant mares should be performed with caution.

Acupuncture should be performed by a qualified therapist under the direction of a veterinarian.

Acupuncture Prevention in Horses

Acupuncture can be a preventive tool against illness and disorder in your horse. Acupuncture is believed to be effective at preventing certain disorders and has been recognized as a useful tool to provide early diagnosis of illness. Horses often react during acupuncture therapy and reveal signs of early disease or disorder that can then be treated with veterinary medicine and acupuncture, resulting in better prognosis if early detection occurred.

As acupuncture is commonly used to treat musculoskeletal disorders, ensuring your horse has a safe environment and that they do not overexert or injure themselves during activity is an important means of preventing injury. These precautions will reduce the likelihood of musculoskeletal disorder requiring acupuncture treatment.