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Acupuncture: needle insertion



  • The insertion and manipulation of needles at particular loci on the body:
    • Causes local release of vasoactive amines which induces capillary vasodilation.
    • Stimulate A´ nerves (mechanoreceptors)    →   descending inhibition effect on pain signals.
    • Up-regulates opioids release in the CNS.
    • Elicits somatovisceral reflexes: tendency to normalize underlying abnormal autonomic activity, including visceral tone and motility, vasomotor regulation, reduce sympathetic tone in stressed states.
    • Acupoint stimulation on the ventrum and in the ear elicits vagal reflexes; new studies show an anti-inflammatory effect from vagal stimulation.
    • Deactivates the limbic (emotional) centre of the brain (anxiolytic effect); this integrates with the reduction in stress effects on the autonomics.
    • Promotes normal neuro-endocrine interactions and thereby helps correct dysfunctioning endocrine activities.
    • Neurohumoral interactions enhance immune functions.
    • Improve or resolve bioelectrical disturbances in local tissue, eg deep scars.
    • Patient interaction appears to be an important factor in outcome.
    • May take up to 5 treatments to induce long-term benefits.
  • The needling sensation (de-Qi) is described by human patients as a soreness, heaviness or pulling sensation at the point of insertion. The sensation may travel along part of the channel   Acupuncture: channel (meridian) systems   in man but we have no ability to assess de-Qi or propogated needle sensation in animals.
  • The nearest phenomena is the pilomotor response in some horses during acupuncture    Acupuncture: pilomotor response 01    Acupuncture: pilomotor response 02  . The acupuncturist will often feel and see a local muscle twitch with a needle grabbing sensation. The horse may show resentment to this, but most appear unperterbed. The resistance to further needle manipulation can last for up to 20+ minutes and very occasionally persist as a "stuck needle". One normally waits for the needle gripping to release before removal, and the stuck needle may be helped out by an additional adjacent needle.
  • The therapeutic analgesic results of acupuncture were believed from early research to be related to eliciting de-Qi, however, there is increasing evidence that superficial needling may achieve a similar result, especially in sensitive animals. A stoic individual may need the deeper and stronger needle stimulation.



  • Provide analgesia and enhanced recovery from injury in competition horses without use of prohibited drugs.
  • Offers clients a further option to treat many of the chronic conditions which may be responding poorly to conventional therapies.


  • Do not place needles in areas where there is an active infection.
  • Do not place needles in known cancerous tissue.
  • Avoid use of certain points in pregnancy - an historical guideline that has very little evidence to support any claimed abortagenic risks. Most evidence is that no such risk exists. The risk of coincidental abortion or pregnancy complication may make for allegations of malpractice.
  • Avoid placing needles through contaminated/dirty hair or skin.


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  • The majority of horses treated for any of the chronic complaints respond favorably, and most equine acupuncturists report an 80% or more positive resonse.
  • However, if the underlying condition is chronic and with pathology that is beyond repair, then symptom relief will always be limited, even if many such cases may do well for months after a course of 4-6 treatments.
  • The prognosis improves the earlier acupuncture is employed as it fosters the innate healing as well as coping mechanisms. In this way, acupucnture should be viewed as a part of "integrative medicine" and not as "alternative".

Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Habacher G, Pittler M H & Ernst E (2006) Effectiveness of acupuncture in veterinary medicine: systematic review. J Vet Intern Med 20 (3), 480-488 PubMed.
  • Xie H & Ortiz-Umpierre C (2006) What acupuncture can and cannot treat. JAAHA 42 (4), 244-248 PubMed.
  • White A (2004) A cumulative review of the range and incidence of significant adverse events associated with acupuncture. Acupunct Med 22 (3), 122-133 PubMed.
  • Scott S (2001) Developments in veterinary acupuncture. Acupunct Med 19 (1), 27-31 PubMed.
  • White A, Hayhoe S, Hart A & Ernst E (2001) Adverse events following acupuncture: prospective survey of 32,000 consultations with doctors and physiotherapists. BMJ 323 (7311), 485-486 PubMed.
  • Ridgway K (1999) Acupuncture as a treatment modality for back problems. Vet Clin North Am Equine Pract 15(1), 211-221 PubMed.
  • Bossut D F (1996) Veterinary clinical applications of acupuncture. J Altern Complement Med (1), 65-69 PubMed.
  • Yu C, Zhang K, Lu G, Xu J, Xie H, Lui Z, Wang Y & Zhu J (1994) Characteristics of acupuncture meridians and acupoints in animals. Rev Sci Tech 13 (3), 927-933 PubMed.
  • Panzer R B & Chrisman C L (1994) An auricular acupuncture treatment for idiopathic canine epilepsy - a preliminary report. Am J Chin Med 22(1), 11-17 PubMed.
  • Janssens L A (1993) The role of acupuncture in analgesia. Tijdschr Diergeneeskd 118 (Suppl 1), 11S-12S PubMed.
  • Altman S (1992) Techniques and instrumentation. Probl Vet Med (1), 66-87 PubMed
  • Altman S (1992) The incorporation of acupuncture into a small animal practice. Probl Vet Med (1), 223-233 PubMed
  • Dill S G (1992) Acupuncture for gastrointestinal disorders. Probl Vet Med (1), 144-154 PubMed
  • Durkes T E (1992) Gold bead implants. Probl Vet Med (1), 207-211 PubMed.
  • Hwang Y C (1992) Acupuncture atlas. Probl Vet Med (1), 16-33 PubMed
  • Hwang Y C (1992) Anatomy and classification of acupoints. Probl Vet Med (1), 12-15 PubMed
  • Jaggar D (1992) History and basic introduction to veterinary acupuncture. Probl Vet Med (1), 1-11 PubMed
  • Janssens L A (1992) Acupuncture for the treatment of thoracolumbar and cervical disk disease in the dog. Probl Vet Med (1), 107-116 VetMedResource
  • Janssens L A (1992) Trigger point therapy. Probl Vet Med (1), 117-124 PubMed
  • Klide A M (1992) Acupuncture Analgesia. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 22 (2), 374-379 PubMed
  • Limehouse J B (1992) Oriental concepts of acupunctureProbl Vet Med (1), 53-65 PubMed
  • Lin J H & Panzer R (1992) Acupuncture for reproductive disorders. Probl Vet Med (1), 155-161 PubMed
  • Rogers P A, Schoen A M & Limehouse J (1992) Acupuncture for immune-mediated disorders. Literature review and clinical applications. Probl Vet Med (1), 162-193 PubMed
  • Schoen A M (1992) Acupuncture for musculoskeletal disorders. Probl Vet Med (1), 88-97 PubMed
  • Schwartz C (1992) Chronic respiratory conditions and acupuncture therapy. Probl Vet Med (1) 136-143 PubMed
  • Smith F W Jr. (1992) Acupuncture for cardiovascular disorders. Probl Vet Med (1), 125-131 PubMed
  • Smith F W Jr. (1992) Neurophysiologic basis of acupuncture. Probl Vet Med (1), 34-52 PubMed.
  • Janssens L A (1991) Acupuncture in thoracolumbar disc disease. J S Afr Vet Assoc 62 (1), 2 PubMed.
  • Robinson C (1990) Getting started in acupuncture. Aust Vet J 67 (10), 423 PubMed.
  • Janssens L A & Rogers P A (1989) Acupuncture versus surgery in canine thoracolumbar disc disease. Vet Rec 124 (11), 283 VetMedResource.
  • van Niekerk J & Eckersley N (1988) The use of acupuncture in canine epilepsy. J S Afr Vet Assoc 59 (1), 5 PubMed.
  • Klide A M, Farnbach G C & Gallagher S M (1987) Acupuncture therapy for the treatment of intractable, idiopathic epilepsy in dogs. Acupunct Electrother Res 12 (1), 71-74 PubMed.
  • Williams B M (1986) Acupuncture treatment of paralysis. Vet Rec 119 (13), 340 PubMed.
  • Schoen A M, Janssens L & Rogers P A (1986) Veterinary acupuncture. Semin Vet Med Surg (Small Anim) (3), 224-229 PubMed.
  • Craige J E (1985) Acupuncture for flea bite allergic dermatitis. JAVMA 187 (2), 127 PubMed.
  • Altman S (1981) Clinical use of veterinary acupuncture. Vet Med Small Anim Clin 76 (9), 1307-1312 PubMed.
  • Wright M & McGrath C J (1981) Physiologic and analgesic effects of acupuncture in the dog. JAVMA 178 (5), 502-507 PubMed.
  • Janssens L, Altman S & Rogers P A (1979) Respiratory and cardiac arrest under general anaesthesia - treatment by acupuncture of the nasal philtrum. Vet Rec 105 (12), 273-276 PubMed.
  • Rogers P A (1978) Veterinary acupuncture. Vet Rec 102 (17), 387 PubMed.
  • Altman S (1977) Acupuncture - taking a closer look. Mod Vet Pract 58 (12), 1003-1006 PubMed.
  • Freeman A (1974) Veterinary acupuncture. J Am Vet Med Assoc 164 (5), 446-448 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Xie H & Preast V (2007 )Xies Veterinary Acupuncture. Blackwell Publishing.
  • Lindley S & Cummings M (2006) Essentials of Western Veterinary Acupuncture. Blackwell Publishing.
  • Schoen A (2000) Veterinary Acupuncture. Ancient Art to Modern Medicine. 2nd edn, Mosby.
  • Schoen & Wynn (1997) Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine. Mosby.
  • Maciocia G (1989) The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. Churchill Livingstone.
  • Kaputchuk T J (1983) Chinese Medicine - The Web That Has No Weaver. Rider.


  • The American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture (AAVA), 100 Roscommon Drive, Suite 320, Middletown, CT 06457, USA. Website: www.aava.orgThe Association of British Veterinary Acupuncturists (ABVA), ABVA Admin, British Medical Acupuncture Society, BMAS House, 3 Winnington Court, Northwich CW8 1AQ, UK. Email:; Website:
  • The International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS), PO Box 271395, Ft Collins, CO 80527-1395, USA. Email:; Website:

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