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Equine Acupuncture

Acupuncture developed over the course of 2,000 years

During this period many theories of the world have evolved and changed. As the old theories have been tested and questioned many new ideas and ways of practicing medicine have been discovered and we are achieving even more thorough understanding of acupuncture. At present, acupuncture can be divided into two general principals of practice: Eastern or Western. The goals of either practitioner of acupuncture is to diagnose and treat the patient. A western acupuncturist determines a diagnosis using conventional methods which will include; a thorough exam, and possibly diagnostic nerve blocks, joint blocks, diagnostic imaging, blood work and the acupuncture exam. Once the problem is diagnosed acupuncture will be used generally as an adjunct therapy to treat the diagnosis. The placement and use of the needles is to influence the physiology of the body. A traditional or eastern acupuncturist makes a diagnosis in terms of a disturbance in the patient’s energy or balance. Eastern medicine aims to restore the body to a balanced state. This restoration of energy or balance will allow the patient to heel themselves.

I am a western practitioner of acupuncture. I believe that acupuncture works based on neuroanatomy and neurophysiology. The placement of a needle in a specific spot in the body will initiate a physical and chemical reaction that will influence the physiology of the body. This physiological reaction allows us to add acupuncture as a primary and ancillary treatment option for many conditions. These specific points are highly vascularized (have a lot of blood flow) and are highly innervated (have a lot of nerve fibers), making them very effective in stimulating homeostatis, immune system, healing and pain relief. The physiological response that occurs during an acupuncture session make it a very powerful treatment option for pain/discomfort, musculoskeletal disease, neurological disease, immune system dysfunction, wound healing and general well being.

Acupuncture treatment will be different for each patient and will be aimed at treating specific conditions or disease. The therapy goals will be to treat the diagnosed problem, the secondary consequence that will develop because of the primary problem and the horse’s general well being.
There are multiple types of equine acupuncture

The different types of acupuncture include moxibustion, electro-acupuncture and aqua-acupuncture which can be used to help achieve the physiological response we are aiming for.


Moxibustion is an herb that is burned to produce heat and can be used with needles or without needles. The heat provided by the burning moxa will increase vasodilatation of blood vessels.


Electro-acupuncture is the use of electrical stimulation with acupuncture needles. The use of electrical stimulation can help intensify and prolong the pain management aspect of acupuncture. The low frequency electrical stimulation produces an increased endorphin release which stimulates the release of serotonin. Electro stimulation is used for pain management and nerve paralysis.


Aqua-acupuncture is injecting vitamin B12, generally into the acupuncture site to help prolong the stimulation of the acupuncture point.  

Common problems/diseases successfully treated with equine acupuncture

  • Sore backs and necks
  • Gastric ulcers
  • Reproductive issues
  • Heaves and allergic conditions
  • Muscle atrophy and loss
  • Tendon and ligament injuryNeurologic conditions
  • Horner’s syndrome, EPM. Wobbler’s
  • Arthritis
  • Coffin joint, hock or stifle arthritis
  • Heel pain syndrome
  • Navicular disease
  • Laminitis
  • Acute and chronic
  • Colic
  • Spasmodic
  • Impactions

Pain relief following treatment has three distinct patterns:

1. Immediate relief on removing the needles.
2. The following day after treatment even greater relief of pain.
3. Relief of pain gradually accumulating over a course of several treatments.

Equine acupuncture treatment

How often acupuncture treatments should be performed will vary greatly based on the condition being treated and the horse’s response to treatment. Conditions that are long standing and more chronic in nature will require more treatments and conditions that are acute will not require as many treatments. The horse’s response to the treatment will also dictate the number of treatments needed. Generally 1 to 3 treatments will need to be performed for a positive response to be seen. Generally a patient is treated once a week for 4 weeks then the treatments are lengthened out to every 4 to 6 weeks to maintain the progress. To obtain the best results acupuncture is generally used in conjunction with traditional treatments such as intra-articular injections or systemic therapies. Every horse will respond differently to acupuncture and the length of the treatment is based on how well the horse is responding to the treatment. There are minimal side effects and the most common is bleeding from the needle sites. Acupuncture is very effective in relaxing muscles, increasing circulation and providing analgesia.

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