Monday 14th of June 2021
Vet Advice

Acupuncture: How could it benefit my horse?

Acupuncture is described by the Chinese as the stimulation of certain points that regulate the flow of Qi. According to acupuncture theory, Qi is the essence of life that is responsible for maintaining homeostasis, the dynamic equilibrium that is necessary within the body to reduce our susceptibility to injury and disease.

Although the use of acupuncture in the treatment of horses is relatively new to the western world, it has been used on horses in China for over 4000 years.


Fig 1. Acupuncture points of the horse.


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The concept that each point communicates with a specific organ and is capable of reflecting the condition of that organ is traditional Chinese medical theory. The related acupoints will show physiologic changes when the associated organ is suffering a pathophysiologic disturbance. It is believed that when the points are treated with acupuncture, the point and the meridian allow the ready communication of the effect to the affected organ.

The acupuncture points that are used by the acupuncturist are cutaneous areas containing relatively high concentrations of free nerve endings, nerve bundles and nerve plexi, mast cells, lymphatics, capillaries, and venules. Afferent peripheral nerves are used to transmit the acupuncture stimulus to the spinal cord from the acupuncture point. The needle stimulates certain nerves in the skin, which produce a long-term blockade of nerves in the spinal cord that transmit pain to the brain.

Quality and safety of the needles

The needles are always brand new and sterilised.  They are disposed immediately after use so there is no risk of transmitting infection.

Does the needle hurt?

The acupuncture needle is thinner than the usual hypodermic needle and is inserted in a way that hardly ever hurts. They are inserted carefully and swiftly into the skin and left there without further stimulation for an average of five minutes.

How many treatments are required?

Conditions that have been present for many years usually require five or six treatments performed once a week or once a fortnight.

If the condition has only been present for a few months the number is four or five. 

Much depends on the nature of the pain condition and how the patient responds to the treatment.  Some patients respond very quickly while others react slowly or not at all. 

Within two or three treatments your veterinary acupuncturist should be able to suggest whether your horse is likely to find this form of treatment useful, or whether it is better to stop.

Why are several treatments required?

The first treatment rarely produces relief for more than a day. After each successive treatment pain relief usually lasts longer. By the sixth or seventh treatment, relief may last for several months (see Fig 4).  It is rare to have a prolonged relief after only two or three treatments.  If everything goes well, 4-6 treatments may well produce 60% or more relief lasting several months or more.

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Fig 4. Each successive treatment usually produces relief that lasts longer.

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What happens if your horses’ pain begins to return after a course of treatment?

If your horse has done well for several months or more after a course of treatment but the pain begins to return, you would usually only need one or two treatments to produce another period of long-term relief.

Which conditions may benefit from veterinary acupuncture?

Numerous conditions may benefit from veterinary acupuncture, for example; musculoskeletal and neurologic conditions, chronic back pain, gastrointestinal disease, respiratory, emotional, reproductive, dermatologic, and ophthalmologic disorders just to name a few. Speak to your veterinary surgeon to ascertain if it is a treatment which would benefit your horse.

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