Applying Acupuncture to Lameness in Horses
AAEP, an AQHA educational marketing alliance partner, gives advice on alternative therapy for lameness in horses.
By Allen Schoen | February 2, 2011
Veterinary acupuncture and acu-therapy are considered valid modalities, but the potential for abuse exists. These techniques should be regarded as surgical and/or medical procedures under state veterinary practice acts. It is recommended that extensive continuing education programs be undertaken before a veterinarian is considered competent to practice acupuncture.
From the AAEP Guidelines on Therapeutic Options
With an increased in interest in equine veterinary acupuncture, both by the public and the veterinary medical community, there has also been an increase in research and thus a better understanding of the physiologic basis and practical applications of acupuncture.
One of the main applications in equine practice is the treatment and diagnosis of lameness. Acupuncture may be used as both an addition to traditional lameness examinations as well as an addition to treatments of certain lamenesses.
Acupuncture may be defined as the stimulation of specific points on the body to achieve a therapeutic or homeostatic (returning the body to its normal state) effect. Acupuncture points are areas on the skin of decreased electrical resistance or increased electrical conductivity.
If you’re confused about vaccinations, equine nutrition, first aid or anything else relating to horse health, then check out the “Your Horse’s Health” DVD collection. On this three-disk set, veterinarians Dr. Tom Lenz and Dr. Kenton Morgan expertly guide viewers through the basics of keeping your horse healthy.
Acupuncture points correspond to four known neural structures:
- Type I acupoints, or motor points, are located where the nerve enters the muscle.
- Type II acupoints are located on the superficial nerves.
- Type III acupoints are found where there is a high density of superficial nerves.
- Type IV acupoints are located at the muscle-tendon junction.
Acupuncture has many physiologic effects on all systems throughout the body. No one mechanism can explain all the physiologic effects observed. Essentially, acupuncture stimulates various sensory receptors (pain, temperature, pressure and touch), which stimulate sensory nerves, transmitting the signal through the central nervous system to the brain. Various transmitters and hormones are then released from the brain to have their effects throughout the body.
There are numerous techniques to stimulate acupuncture points, such as dry needle stimulation, electroacupuncture, aquapuncture, acupressure and others. Each method has its strengths and weaknesses. Deciding which acupuncture point to stimulate is based on locating points on the body where stimulation will produce a beneficial change in the central nervous system, altering ongoing physiologic activity in the horse’s body. The number of treatments required depends upon the condition treated and how long the problem has existed. The length of individual treatments usually ranges from five to 30 minutes.
Applications to the Lameness Examination
Acupuncture is an excellent diagnostic aid as an addition to conventional lameness examination. Acupuncture diagnosis is based on the level of sensitivity to palpation of particular acupoints that have been found to correspond with specific conditions. In addition, there are diagnostic points that are actually trigger points, knots or tight bands in a muscle. For example, a triceps trigger point is often quite sensitive to palpation when a lower forelimb lameness is present. It may not indicate exactly where the lameness is or what is causing it, but it does mean that something is reactive in that region.
From diseases and disorders to soreness and injuries, the “Your Horse’s Health” DVD collection will help you keep your equine partners out of trouble. “Remember that prevention is key as is early diagnosis and treatment,” advises Dr. Lenz.
Each diagnostic acupoint may have four or five meanings, depending on which other points show up as reactive upon examination. The combination of reactive points often times will assist the diagnosis and aid in localizing the cause of the problem.
Sometimes acupoint diagnosis will help determine which of two or more problems may have come first, such as in the case of a lower limb lameness accompanied by a back problem. Patterns of trigger points far distant to the primary problem, compensating for the primary problem, have also been found.
Acupuncture diagnosis can be an excellent addition to the lameness examination in addition to flexion tests, diagnostic nerve blocks, radiographs (X-rays), ultrasound and fluoroscopy (X-rays in motion). It is not uncommon to use all of these diagnostic techniques, including nuclear scintigraphy (bone scanning), and still not arrive at a diagnosis. Acupuncture is often an excellent complementary technique that may assist in figuring out the problem.
Applications to Lameness Treatment
Acupuncture is also used successfully in the treatment of various equine lamenesses either as the primary treatment or in addition to conventional veterinary treatment. For instance, a primary hock problem may be treated with an injection of medication directly into the joint. However, it may not completely resolve the entire complaint the owner has. The horse may still be “off.”
Often there are secondary compensations, resulting in patterns of trigger points in the back or neck that remain unresolved. Acupuncture therapy may then be used successfully to treat the secondary problems of the primary hock problem.
Acupuncture has been used successfully in the treatment of numerous equine lamenesses including chronic back problems, hock or stifle problems, laminitis, navicular disease and various soft-tissue injuries. Acupuncture may also be beneficial in the treatment of non-lameness problems in the horse such as colic and diarrhea as well as reproductive, neurologic and respiratory conditions.
Although ancient in eastern cultures, acupuncture in the west is an exciting new diagnostic and therapeutic technique. It offers an alternative approach to diagnostic and therapeutic dilemmas that conventional western medicine to which may not give adequate answers. Further research will continue to explain the physiologic basis of acupuncture.