Practiced in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years, acupuncture is one of the key components of Traditional Chinese Medicine and natural approaches to therapies.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the term “acupuncture” describes a family of procedures involving the stimulation of points on the body using a variety of techniques. The acupuncture technique that has been most often studied scientifically involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation.
What is the history of acupuncture?
The earliest recorded use of acupuncture dates from 200 BCE. Knowledge of acupuncture spread from China along Arab trade routes towards the West. Most Americans first heard of acupuncture in the early 1970s.
Acupuncture gained attention in the United States after President Nixon visited China in 1972. Traveling with Nixon was New York Times reporter James Reston, who received acupuncture in China after undergoing an emergency appendectomy. Reston was so impressed with the post-operative pain relief the procedure provided that he wrote about acupuncture upon returning to the United States.
In 1997, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) formally recognized acupuncture as a mainstream human medicine healing option with a statement documenting the procedure’ s safety and efficacy for treating a range of health conditions. While awareness of acupuncture is growing, many conventional veterinary practitioners (and human practitioners) are still unfamiliar with both the theory and practice of acupuncture.
Conducted mainly in China, there are now hundreds of clinical studies on the benefits to humans of acupuncture, though few well-designed studies exist for veterinary medicine. Acupuncture has been used successfully in human medicine in the treatment of conditions ranging from musculoskeletal problems (back pain, neck pain, and others) to nausea, migraine headache, anxiety, and insomnia. For these reasons, an increasing number of veterinarians are exploring the efficacy of acupuncture in animals.
How does acupuncture work?
The effects of acupuncture are complex. How it works is not entirely clear. Research suggests that the needling process, and other techniques used in acupuncture, may produce a variety of effects in the body and the brain. One theory is that stimulated nerve fibers transmit signals to the spinal cord and brain, activating the body’ s central nervous system. The spinal cord and brain then release hormones responsible for making the body feel less pain while improving overall health. In fact, a study using images of the human brain confirmed that acupuncture increases our pain threshold, which may explain why it produces long-term pain relief. Acupuncture may also increase blood circulation and body temperature, affect white blood cell activity (responsible for immune function), reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and regulate blood sugar levels.
How many treatments does my pet need?
The number of acupuncture treatments your pet needs depends on the complexity of your pet’s illness, whether it’s a chronic or recent condition, and your pet’s general health.
What is acupuncture good for?
Acupuncture is particularly effective for pain relief and for nausea and vomiting after surgery or chemotherapy. In addition, both the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health recognize – for humans – (there are few credible studies for animals) that acupuncture can be a helpful part of a treatment plan for many illnesses. A partial list includes: addiction (such as alcoholism), asthma, bronchitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, facial tics, fibromyalgia, headaches, irregular menstrual cycles, polycystic ovarian syndrome, low back pain, menopausal symptoms, menstrual cramps, osteoarthritis, sinusitis, spastic colon (often called irritable bowel syndrome), stroke rehabilitation, tendinitis, tennis elbow, and urinary problems such as incontinence. Acupuncture can safely be combined with prescription drugs and other conventional treatments, but it is important for your veterinarian to be aware of and monitor how your acupuncture treatment may be affecting conventional therapies.
The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture also lists a wide range of conditions for which acupuncture is appropriate – again, for humans since veterinary efficacy has few credible studies. In addition to those listed above, they recommend acupuncture for sports injuries, sprains, strains, whiplash, neck pain, sciatica, nerve pain due to compression, overuse syndromes similar to carpal tunnel syndrome, pain resulting from spinal cord injuries, allergies, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), sore throat (called pharyngitis), high blood pressure, gastroesophageal reflux (felt as heartburn or indigestion), ulcers, chronic and recurrent bladder and kidney infections, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), infertility, endometriosis, anorexia, memory problems, insomnia, multiple sclerosis, sensory disturbances, drug detoxification,Â depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders.
At the core of Chinese medicine is the notion that a type of life force, or energy, known as qi (pronounced “chee”) flows through energy pathways (meridians) in the body. Each meridian corresponds to one organ, or group of organs, that governs particular bodily functions. Achieving the proper flow of qi is thought to create health and wellness. Qi maintains the dynamic balance of yin and yang, which are complementary opposites. According to Chinese medicine, everything in nature has both yin and yang. An imbalance of qi (too much, too little, or blocked flow) causes disease. To restore balance to the qi, an acupuncturist inserts needles at points along the meridians. These acupuncture points are places where the energy pathway is close to the surface of the skin.
Although millions of Americans use acupuncture each year, often for chronic pain, there has been considerable controversy surrounding its value as a therapy and whether it is anything more than placebo. Research exploring a number of possible mechanisms for acupuncture’s pain-relieving effects is ongoing.
Supporting Research (in Human Medicine)
Chen D, et al. Clinical study on needle-pricking therapy for treatment of polycystic ovarial syndrome. Zhongguo Zhen Jiu. 2007;27(2):99-102.
Cheuk DK, Yeung WF, Chung KF, Wong V. Acupuncture for insomnia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007;(3):CD005472.
Benzon: Raj’s Practical Management of Pain, 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier, Inc. 2008.
de Leon: Cancer Pain, 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier Inc., 2006.
Dickman R, Schiff E, Holland A, Wright C, Sarela SR, Han B, Fass R. Acupuncture vs. doubling the PPI dose in refractory heartburn. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2007; [Epub ahead of print].
Facco E, Liguori A, Petti F, et al. Traditional Acupuncture in Migraine: A Controlled, Randomized Study. Headache. 2007; [Epub ahead of print].
Flachskampf FA, Gallasch J, Gefeller O, et al. Randomized trial of acupuncture to lower blood pressure. Circulation. 2007;115(24):3121-9.
Haake M, Muller HH, Schade-Brittinger C, et al. German Acupuncture Trials (GERAC) for chronic low back pain: randomized, multicenter, blinded, parallel-group trial with 3 groups. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(17):1892-8.
Hollifield M, Sinclair-Lian N, Warner TD, Hammerschlag R. Acupuncture for posttraumatic stress disorder: a randomized controlled pilot trial. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2007;195(6):504-13.
Itoh K, Katsumi Y, Hirota S, Kitakoji H. Randomised trial of trigger point acupuncture compared with other acupuncture for treatment of chronic neck pain. Complement Ther Med. 2007;15(3):172-9.
Kelly R. Acupuncture for Pain. American Family Physician. 2009;80(5).
Law S, Li T. Acupuncture for glaucoma. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007;(4):CD006030.
Manheimer E, Linde K, Lao L, Bouter LM, Berman BM. Meta-analysis: acupuncture for osteoarthritis of the knee. Ann Intern Med. 2007;146(12):868-77.
Pilkington K, Kirkwood G, Rampes H, Cummings M, Richardson J. Acupuncture for anxiety and anxiety disorders — a systematic literature review. Acupunct Med. 2007;25(1-2):1-10.
Price S, Lewith G, Thomas K. Acupuncture care for breast cancer patients during chemotherapy: a feasibility study. Integr Cancer Ther. 2006;5(4):308-14.
Schneider A, Streitberger K, Joos S. Acupuncture treatment in gastrointestinal diseases: a systematic review. World J Gastroenterol. 2007;13(25):3417-24.
Sierpina V, Frenkel, M. Acupunture: A Clinical Review. Southern Medical Journal, 2005;98(3):330-337.
Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Manheimer E, Vickers A, White AR. Acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;(1).
Lu W, Dean-Clower E, Doherty-Gilman A, Rosenthal D. The value of acupuncture in cancer care. Hematology/Oncology Clinics of North America. 2008;22(4).
Wu TP, Chen FP, Liu JY, Lin MH, Hwang SJ. A randomized controlled clinical trial of auricular acupuncture in smoking cessation. J Chin Med Assoc. 2007;70(8):331-8.