Written by Shannon Fujimoto Nakaya, DVM
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is the insertion of very fine (much smaller than the needles used to take blood or to give injections), sterile needles into specific points on the body in order to achieve therapeutic benefit.
How does acupuncture work?
According to traditional eastern theory, acupuncture works by moving and balancing energy or qi within the body. Qi flows through channels or meridians that traverse both the surface of the body and internal organs. When the body is balanced, qi flows smoothly and the patient feels and functions well. When qi becomes stagnant or depleted, the patient experiences pain and dysfunction. Acupuncture is one method of restoring the flow of qi to diminish pain, and to support healing and wellbeing.
According to Western scientific theory, acupuncture works, at least in part, by prompting physiologic changes that diminish pain and promote healing. Not all acupuncture points are anatomically similar, and stimulation of different types of acupuncture points elicits different types of physiologic responses. Some of these complex mechanisms are better understood than others. For example, acupuncture can diminish the sensation of pain via a process called segmental analgesia. Needling of certain acupoints activates tiny nerve fibers, which synapse with larger nerve fibers, which synapse with the spinal cord, which synapse with the brain, which causes endorphin release. Some of the endorphins act on the brain while others act on the spinal cord, large and small nerve fibers, collectively diminishing the patient's sensation of pain.
What types of conditions is acupuncture good for?
I mostly use acupuncture to treat or to complement treatment of:
- back problems
- hip dysplasia
- knee problems
- neck problems
- paresis or paralysis
- soft tissue injuries
Will my pet sit for acupuncture?
Not all pets will sit for acupuncture, although many surprise their people. I do not sedate or muzzle or restrain patients for acupuncture. I do have a group of "acupuncture junkies" who greet me at the door, walk me over to their bed, and lie down with a deep sigh.
Patients who do not tolerate needling can still consider other methods of moving and balancing qi such as acupressure, massage, diet, lifestyle, and herbal supplements.
How often will my pet need acupuncture?
It depends. Some conditions will respond to a single treatment. In general, the longer a patient has had a condition, the longer it will take the patient to recover. For chronic conditions like long-standing arthritis, it is useful to plan on weekly treatments for three to four weeks, and then "maintenance" every 2 to 6 weeks.