Acupuncture can be used to help manage a number of conditions. It involves insertion of fine
needles through the skin, often at specific acupuncture points.
There are two types of acupuncture:
- Traditional Chinese medicine, which is a holistic approach using key points to restore and maintain the body’s natural balance
- The Western scientific approach, which involves needling at specific anatomical sites and particularly painful points called trigger points. It is often used alongside additional pain relief but can reduce reliance on medication and has a particular role in chronic pain management where medication is not tolerated or no longer effective.
Acupuncture helps alleviate pain as it inhibits pain pathways providing local relief. It can cause
release of endorphins and similar chemicals in the brain and spinal cord which provide more
generalised pain relief and increased wellbeing. Acupuncture has a role to play in the treatment
of osteoarthritis,back pain, joint pain, lick granulomas, myofascial pain, muscle and ligament
strains or sprains and some urinary and gastrointestinal disorders. Electroacupuncture involves
attaching electrodes to needles to provide a small current of varying frequency. This gives
greater effect and can be tried in severe or chronic cases that do not respond to conventional
Acupuncture works in a number of ways:
- Local effects at the site of needling include dilation of blood vessels and greater blood flow leading to some new nerve and blood vessel growth
- Release endorphins, the “feel good factor”
- Pain inhibition at the level of the spinal cord. Pain sensing C fibres are slow conductors from the painful area to the spinal cord. Larger and quicker A delta fibres activated by needling act to divert or trick the brain, thereby overriding or inhibiting the C pain fibres.
- Myofascial pain arises from activated trigger points in muscle and can be where damage has occurred or when an animal alters the way it moves to compensate for injury or pain.
- Acupuncture needling into and around trigger points relieves that pain.
- Segmental acupuncture is needling of muscle groups close to the spinal cord that are innervated the same nerves as internal organs, therefore can normalise function and relieve visceral pain.
Chronic conditions are treated weekly up to 4 times, then increasing intervals allowed between
treatments. About 10 -20% of animals are non-responders while others are very sensitive so
initial treatment will involve limited needling. Infected, ulcerated or oedematous skin is avoided
as are tumours and the animal needs to be clean and dry for needling to undertaken.