Acupuncture is a complementary/alternative therapy used with some frequency in veterinary medicine. Its role as both a sole and an adjunct therapy is increasing, particularly in the area of pain management. Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) recognizes approximately 350 acupuncture points along body pathways or meridians that circulate energy or qi. Most points are palpable depressions in the skin and occur at areas of low electrical resistance and high electrical skin conductance. Stimulating these sites triggers a complex mechanism of action initiated in the nervous system that results in endocrine and immune changes. Four points are recognized:
Type I (motor) points are the most common and exist where nerves enter muscles
Type II points are located where nerves intersect on the dorsal and ventral midlines of the body
Type III points are located at superficial nerve branching points
Type IV points are located at the Golgi tendon organs where nerves penetrate tendons.
Histologic examination of these points reveals accumulations of neurovascular bundles, free nerve endings, small arterioles, veins, lymphatics, and mast cells. Acupuncture inhibits nociceptive transmission, improves blood flow, inhibits inflammation, reduces muscle tension and spasms, resets proprioceptive mechanisms and structural posture, and affects the autonomic nervous system. The most common stimulation methods are dry needles, aqua acupuncture, laser acupuncture, material implantation, and electroacupuncture. In general, acupuncture sessions are performed weekly but can be scheduled every 1 to 2 days. For ongoing conditions (such as osteoarthritis maintenance therapy), weekly, monthly, or fewer sessions are recommended. Acupuncture contraindications and precautions include, but are not limited to, needle placement through infected skin, use around the abdomen of a pregnant animal, avoidance of tumors and tumor sites, use across the thorax of an animal with a pacemaker, avoidance near fractures or acute trauma sites, and fractious demeanor of the animal.

Commentary: Acupuncture’s use in veterinary medicine is increasing due to its analgesic and therapeutic effects. The author provides a valuable overview of the mechanisms of acupuncture, analgesia, and the modes of acupuncture therapy. Acupuncture will become a mainstream modality as an analgesic or therapeutic agent through a more nuanced understanding of its effects.—Lindsey Culp Snyder, DVM, MS, Diplomate ACVA

Traditional Chinese veterinary medicine: The mechanism and management of acupuncture for chronic pain. Cantwell SL. TOP COMPANION ANIM MED 25:53-58, 2010.

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Read more about integrating holistic and traditional medicine in our new editorial column, A Matter of Opinion: Mixing It Up—Holistic & Traditional Veterinary Medicine, in this issue.