See Acupuncture in Action
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Acupuncture is an ancient form of healing that involves the insertion of very fine needles into specific points on the body. By stimulating the body in this way, the organism’s own healing resources are mobilized leading to improvement of the underlying condition.
Acupuncture is the most researched therapy within holistic medicine. Many studies have proven its efficacy at relieving pain. In fact, pain relief is probably the most common reason people seek an acupuncturist. However, research has shown many other neurological effects of acupuncture including hastened recovery from strokes and improved nerve regeneration.
Research has shown that acupuncture has healing effects on other systems of the body as well. It can help aid with the pain and time involved with the birthing process, improve bladder problems, and reduce urinary incontinence. Acupuncture can be used to reduce blood pressure, improve heart function, and increase exercise performance. It is well known for reducing nausea and can decrease gastric acid secretion. Acupuncture has also proven effective as a treatment for asthma. It can even enhance the function of the immune system. There is almost no condition that cannot be improved with the use of acupuncture.
The most common problems I use acupuncture to treat are arthritis, musculoskeletal injuries and back problems. I would estimate that 75% - 80% of pets suffering from arthritis or back pain respond well to acupuncture. A recent study demonstrated that acupuncture was more effective than surgery for certain spinal disc conditions in dogs.
There is even research that validates the existence of the Chinese concept of the acupuncture point. Acupuncture points are the areas of skin that are stimulated by the acupuncturist. Research has shown that the electrical resistance of the skin is lower at acupuncture points than at non-acupuncture points. This means that electricity flows more readily at acupuncture points than other areas of the skin.
Biopsies of acupuncture points reveal that each point is centered by a bundle of microscopic nerves and blood vessels. There are also higher than normal numbers of mast cells at acupuncture points. Mast cells play a key role in the inflammatory response of the body.
Three quarters of all acupuncture points are located at the motor points of muscles. The motor point of a muscle is the place where the least amount of stimulation causes the maximum amount of relaxation of that muscle. Many acupuncture points are also over superficial nerves or groups of nerves.
From this research we can see that acupuncture points are unique indeed. The fact that they have unusual electrical features must play a role in how they work. Also, these points seem to allow special access to the blood vascular and nervous systems. Finally, needling many of the points can have a relaxing effect on the underlying muscles.
What to Expect from Acupuncture Therapy
Although some patients respond quickly, it may take up to eight treatments to start to see a response from acupuncture. The initial improvements usually consist of vague signs of brightened attitude and enhanced wellbeing. Acute injuries tend to respond faster than chronic conditions.
The initial frequency of the treatments ranges from every few days to once a week. That timing is continued until the improvement plateaus. At that point the time between sessions is gradually increased to the maximum time span that will maintain the pet’s health. Acute injuries often do not require maintenance treatments, while most chronic conditions need to be treated every four to twelve weeks for life.
During the treatment itself, I usually have the pet lie on a blanket or baby mattress with their owner sitting with them, although some animals are more comfortable standing. After a brief evaluation of the pet’s progress, I insert the needles and leave the room while relaxing music plays softly in the background. After the allotted time, I return to the room and remove the needles. Often the animal then needs to be turned to lie on the opposite side so other points can be accessed.
The biggest concern that most people have about acupuncture is that the needles will cause pain. In my experience, the patient rarely feels the prick of the needles. As a matter of fact, some animals fall asleep during the treatment which may last from five to forty-five minutes depending on the problem being addressed.
Pets are often apprehensive for their first treatment or two; after all, I’m asking them to lie down and relax in a vet’s office – nothing fun ever happens there. Amazingly, after a few sessions most dogs come to enjoy their therapy and actually pull their owners back to the treatment room. They enjoy the endorphin high the needling gives them. Some of my long-term patients are so accustom to the procedure that if I’m a few minutes late getting into the room, I find them lying on the blanket with a dazed look in their eyes and a puddle of drool under their mouths. They have obviously started without me and I often wonder if I even need to put the needles in.
The biggest concern I have is the remote possibility that the pet may decide to remove a needle with his mouth and then swallow it. I always caution the owner to keep an eye on their pet during the treatment. In reality, the biggest obstacle to an acupuncture treatment is keeping the pet still while the needles work their magic. If the animal fidgets just a little, then some of the needles may fall out. Although this is not a harmful situation, it is not very helpful. It is important for both the pet and his human companion to rest in a comfortable position for the treatment.
Acupuncture is not a panacea. Even in China it is only part of the medical system. If after eight to ten treatments there is no improvement in the patient, then acupuncture is probably not going to help.