Equine Acupuncture is a Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medical treatment that dates back 2,000 years. It is a therapeutic method that uses stimulation of specific areas (points) on the horse’s body to promote balanced function and enhanced energy flow in your horse. Better balance and flow in your horse results in positive physiological changes.
Acupuncture points are locations on your horse that have special electrical and anatomical attributes. The points have lower electrical resistance and a higher electrical conductivity than the surrounding tissue. These points are found in areas of concentrated free nerve endings, small arteries, lymphatic vessels and mast cells.
Several stimulation techniques may be used to activate acupuncture points including needles, injection of the horse’s own blood or using other agents such as laser, electro-acupuncture and moxibustion. Moxibustion uses burned herb close to the acupuncture point or close to a needle at the point for stimulation.
The immense therapeutic results of acupuncture are achieved using a combination of mechanisms in the body. “A multimodal mechanism of action involving a cascade of events in the body” is the current description used to explain acupuncture. Participation from the nervous system, endocrine system and immune system are all required to achieve the desired physiological results.
You may be wondering how acupuncture feels for the horse. Do the needles sting? During acupuncture needle placement, many horses show subtle responses to the needle insertion at reactive points. The reactivity of the point varies in each patient and depends on the patient’s general sensitivity as well as the location of the point. Some points are generally thought to be more reactive than others. Point reactivity is unique to the patient’s condition as was observed in our geriatric horse (see below).
Once all the needles are placed, some horses relax, chew, body shake, yawn and/or sleep. Some horses experience a phenomenon called De-Chi translated as the “arrival of Chi.” Human patients describe this experience as tingling, warmth, pressure and so forth. Your horse may respond to similar sensations subtly or with bucking and excitement followed by licking/chewing and, subsequently, a deep exhaling breath. Each patient is unique; the level of response may vary from horse to horse.
What can acupuncture be used to treat?
“…Acupuncture can directly and indirectly treat many equine disorders. Using TCVM (Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine) theory, acupuncture is unique in its ability to aid in prevention of illness and disease. It is also a non-invasive therapy with few contraindications and low incidence of side-effects,” says Dr Nikki Byrd, DVM, who is also a certified veterinary acupuncturist (CVA) and veterinary medical manipulation practitioner (CVMMP). “There are special considerations taken by veterinarians when selecting treatment points for a few conditions such as pregnancy. For example, some acupuncture points and point combinations are useful in inducing parturition, so those points would be avoided in early term pregnancy. Moreover, it’s a powerful adjunctive therapy in numerous illnesses and injuries to promote health and healing.”
A few of the most common uses of acupuncture in horses are for the treatment of:
- Poor performance
- Musculoskeletal pain
- Pulmonary disease
- Reproductive disorders
- Stress or anxiety.
- GI disturbances
- Stem cell release into circulation
Case Study: Acupuncture to Treat a Sarcoid
Lyford presented as a healthy 10-year-old Thoroughbred. All systems looked great apart from a suspected sarcoid on the inside of his right front knee. It precariously close to the cephalic vein and near the medial carpal joint (inside knee). Dr. Nikki Byrd, DVM examined and treated with three treatments of acupuncture and a minor (one needle) follow up at conclusion over the course of two months. The sarcoid was approximately the size of a half dollar. Banixx spray was used morning and evening to keep the area clean. The sarcoid “shed” or “peeled” after the second treatment revealing healthy pink tissue indicative of good blood flow and evidence of healing. During fly season Banixx Wound Care Cream protected the area, acting like a medicated Band-Aid and contains oil of peppermint that is a natural fly repellant.
As the treatments progressed, the sarcoid rapidly shrank. Two months later, hair was growing vigorously at the site, and the horse was pronounced healed. Today, there is absolutely no visible or tactile evidence of any sarcoid.
Sarcoids do not commonly respond well to surgery. Instead, surgery seems to “disturb” the adjacent tissue, resulting in additional lesions and proliferation. Acupuncture is 100% non-invasive; it requires no “recovery time or stall rest and has no side effects. The “side effect” or additional benefit for this horse was improved jumping style!
Case Study: Acupuncture for a Geriatric Horse
Devlin presented as a 32-year-old Quarter Horse with chronic severe Recurrent Airway Obstruction (Heaves). Hydroxyzine and steroids had been administered for several months but were not providing a material improvement in his condition. Acupuncture was performed with the goal of improving his appetite, respiratory condition and overall quality of life. Acupuncture points were selected for his specific pattern (using TCVM diagnosis) to support his respiratory system, nourish his constitution and support his geriatric condition. Dr Byrd commented, “Measurable improvements were observed within one day despite Devlin’s age and advanced condition. His appetite doubled, interaction with his herd improved and his general demeanor was brighter.”
How do you go about finding a good acupuncturist? Talking with your veterinarian about acupuncture is an excellent approach. If your veterinarian doesn’t offer acupuncture services, many general practitioners have excellent relationships with colleagues who can offer provide local referrals. Horse owners who cannot obtain referrals from their veterinarians can find a local CVA by searching online on the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society website [https://www.ivas.org/vets/] or on the Chi University website [https://www.tcvm.net/]. Both websites also offer additional information about acupuncture and its application in veterinary medicine.
Dr Nikki Byrd DVM/CVSA/CVMMP, of Byrd Equine, is located in Fair Bluff, Nc. but she practices from Kentucky to Florida.
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