Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) Theory

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) includes five branches:

  • Food Therapy  (Diet)
  • Exercise, Rest and Relaxation (Qi-gong or Tai-ji in humans)
  • Acupuncture
  • Herbal Therapy
  • Tui-na (Chinese adjusting/deep massage/meridian Therapy)

Use of each of these areas together will help maintain or achieve health.

TCVM  is based on the concept that there is another system operating and regulating the body that Western medicine has not recognized.  Vital Energy or Qi (pronounced chee) is the foundation of TCVM.  The ancient Chinese discovered that the health of the body depends on the state of Qi.  A healthy body, working in harmony, can go a long way towards healing itself. It is only when the body's energy flow, or Qi, is worn down or blocked that those normal defense mechanisms are weakened and illness can set in. Deficiency or stagnation of QI allows for disease.

Qi flows throughout the body along pathways called meridians. Most of the approximately 365 acupuncture points are located along the meridians. It is believed that there are 12 main meridians and 8 extraordinary meridians through which Qi flows.  These meridians cover the body inside and outside.

TCVM is used to prevent and treat disease and disorders.  TCVM looks at the WHOLE patient-not just at symptoms.  Appropriate treatment is on an individual basis.  TCVM can be used to help almost any ailment- including many for which traditional Western medicine is of limited benefit.

How Acupuncture Works

Acupuncture is defined as the insertion of needles into specific points( called acupuncture points or acupoints) on the body to cause a desired healing effect. There are around 365 recognized acupuncture points in the horse.

From a TCVM perspective, an acupuncture point is a special location where Qi is distributed and/or gathers.  Treatment with acupuncture involves stimulating the acupuncture points to increase or move Qi, resolve stagnation or balance Yin/Yang.

From a Western Veterinary point of view, acupuncture stimulates nerves, increases blood circulation, and relieves muscle spasms.  It can also cause the release of hormones, such as endorphins (one of the body's pain control chemicals) and cortisol (a natural steroid).  Although many of acupuncture's physiological effects have been studied, many more are still unknown. Research has demonstrated that acupoints show decreased electrical resistance and increased electrical conductivity. Anatomical dissections have found that acupoints have an elevated density of free nerve endings, arterioles, lymphatic vessels and mast cells.

Acupuncture Techniques

There are several ways to stimulate acupuncture points including:

  • Dry needling This is the most common form of acupuncture and involves inserting specially designed sterile thin metal needles into the acupuncture points for 5-60 minutes.
  • Electro-acupuncture This method uses the same technique as dry needling except that after the needles are inserted, they are connected to an electrical stimulator that delivers pulsing electrical currents between two connected needles.  This method enhances the effects of the acupuncture treatment.
  • Hemo-acupunture This technique uses releasing the animals own blood with a needle prick in order to clear an area of excess heat or stagnation.
  • Aqua-acupuncture This  method uses the injection of a liquid into the acupuncture points.   Commonly used fluids may include: saline,  B vitamins, homeopathic remedies and the animals own blood.
  • Moxibustion Moxa uses a Chinese herb that is used to apply heat to acupuncture points.  Once lighted, it can be manually held in place by the practitioner or it can placed onto the handle of the already inserted acupuncture needles.
  • Laser This method is not technically an “acupuncture” technique as it does not involve the use of needles.  There is debate as to the effectiveness of laser acupuncture because there is doubt that the laser beam penetrates the animal’s tissues deep enough to reach most of the acupuncture points.

Acupuncture Treatment

Treatment including assessment, needle placement, etc. usually takes 45 minutes to 1 hour.  Depending on the technique used for treatment, needles may be left in place for a few minutes up to and hour.

At least 3 treatments are needed to give acupuncture a chance.  Many conditions however, respond to the first treatment.  Time between treatments varies with the condition.

Acupuncture can be used to treat almost any condition, including many for which Western Medicine does not have any answers.  A partial list includes:

  • Back pain
  • Osteoarthritis/Degenerative Joint Disease
  • Lameness
  • Crankiness or Stiffness Under Saddle
  • Laryngeal Hemiplegia (Roarers)
  • COPD/Heaves
  • Muscle damage or Atrophy
  • Nerve Damage or Local Paralysis
  • Foot Soreness (Laminitis, Navicular Syndrome,etc..)
  • Anhydrosis (Non-Sweaters)
  • Tumors and growths
  • Tying Up
  • Immune Disorders
  • Infertility
  • Endocrine Disorders
  • Geriatrics
  • Colic
  • Gastric ulcers
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Uveitis
  • Jaw Pain
  • Wobblers/Neck Pain
  • Behavior issues
  • Performance issues


How Herbal Medicine Works

Chinese herbs are used to treat the same conditions diagnosed and treated with acupuncture.  Thousands of years of trial and error have resulted in the use of specific single herbs or combinations.  These herbs are each seen to have specific effects according to the TCVM system.  The key is a proper diagnosis.  When choosing over the counter herbals, there is no proper TCVM diagnosis and thus a higher rate of failure.  Herbal combinations must be used with care to avoid interactions with medications.  Some herbs do test in drug test situations.