Acupuncture Use in the Treatment of Reproductive Disorders

Acupuncture can be a valuable alternative for the treatment of reproductive disorders, according to Rhonda Rathgeber, DVM, PhD, an acupuncturist certified through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS). Rathgeber provided an introduction to the workings of acupuncture, as well as its applications in reproductive work at the Hagyard Bluegrass Equine Symposium, which was held Oct. 18-21 in Lexington, Ky.

Acupuncture can be used in conjunction with Western medicine prior to breeding to treat anestrus (period of sexual inactivity), excessive behavioral estrus, retained corpus luteum (an ovarian follicle after discharge of the egg that secretes the hormone progesterone), urine pooling, uterine infection and fluid, endometritis (inflammation of the innermost lining of the uterus), and vaginitis (inflammation of the vagina). During pregnancy and foaling, acupuncture can be used as an adjunct therapy for the prevention of abortion, retained placenta, postpartum hemorrhage, and insufficient lactation.

Cryptorchid stallions (those having one or more testicles that have not descended into the scrotum), as well as those with libido problems, sore backs, and behavioral issues can also benefit from treatment, Rathgeber says.

Additionally, she reports that analgesia provided by acupuncture might be helpful in combination with conventional anesthesia to reduce the amount of chemical compounds used in procedures, particularly for Caesarean deliveries and debilitated animals.

An acupuncturist stimulates certain points on the body, and this alters the horse's plasma hormone levels. Stimulation of points associated with reproduction can alter the release of follicle-stimulating hormone, lutenizing hormone (a hormone which triggers ovulation), estradiol (the major form of estrogen), and progesterone (a hormone which maintains pregnancy), all of which have bearing on the horse's reproductive capabilities.

Rathgeber reported on the results of a study on 44 mares treated with acupuncture for uterine fluid and/or uterine pooling. The average age of these mares was 14.6 years old, and they took an average of 3.9 trips to the breeding shed before they were confirmed in foal. Rathgeber says that for the majority of these mares, acupuncture was used only after traditional Western therapies had failed.

After an average of 1.3 acupuncture treatments, the mares were either confirmed in foal via ultrasound or retired for the season. (One acupuncture treatment consisted of one visit before and after breeding.) All of the mares were treated using the same acupuncture points, and none were anesthetized for treatment. The acupuncture treatment was performed in conjunction with Western treatments, including oxytocin (a hormone that stimulates contraction of the uterus and milk ejection from the mammary glands), uterine flushes, and intrauterine antibiotic infusions, if required.

Ultrasound and vaginal examinations on the day following acupuncture treatment showed that fluid was reduced 99% of the time. Of the mares involved in the study--some of which had been barren for several years--all but two had normal foals.

"The idea behind treating endometritis is to increase the blood flow and lymphatic return and venous return from the uterus; it also helps the smooth muscles to contract and tone the uterus," Rathgeber said. "When the uterus loses tone it increases in size and hangs over the brim of the pelvis that allows it to collect fluid in the body. By toning the uterus you decrease its size and it maintains its position within the pelvic canal."

Rathgeber says she uses acupuncture to treat any and all reproductive disorders, and she urges horse owners to explore this option with a certified acupuncturist as an adjunct to Western medicine.

About the Author

Erin Ryder

Erin Ryder is a former news editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care. She owns a portly gray gelding named Duncan and dabbles in several equestrian disciplines, with an emphasis on dressage.

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