Equine Acupuncture on the Rise as Adjunct Therapy

Equine Acupuncture on the Rise as Adjunct Therapy

Lascola says her goal with acupuncture therapy is primarily to increase her patients’ comfort.

Photo: University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine

Kara Lascola, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, uses equine acupuncture to supplement conventional therapies and treatments given to her patients.

She says her goal with acupuncture therapy is primarily to increase her patients’ comfort.

“I mainly use acupuncture to help manage chronic pain associated with musculoskeletal problems, such as back injuries, although it can also be used in management for other conditions such as laminitis or neuropathies,” she says.

Lascola is board certified in large animal internal medicine, and gained certification to perform acupuncture to expand options for her patients. She says there is evidence that acupuncture can be beneficial for managing pain in humans and veterinary species.

One recent patient—a horse with boney abnormalities along the top of his vertebrae which resulted in chronic back soreness—illustrates the success of acupuncture in augmenting other therapies.

“This horse was initially given corticosteroid injections and shockwave therapy, which resulted in some improvements,” says Lascola. “However, follow-up acupuncture treatments really seemed to make the difference. By the owner’s account, the horse is more comfortable, performs better under saddle, and has increased flexibility. After acupuncture, he no longer showed discomfort when we probed his back in the regions where he had previously shown pain.”

Tailored to the Patient’s Needs

When Lascola first sees a patient, she conducts a thorough physical examination and takes a thorough history of the patient from the client. She then examines specific acupuncture pressure points and determines where acupuncture therapy should focus, taking into consideration the horse’s history and where he’s painful.

She selects her primary acupuncture points based on the areas of pain and identifies secondary points to influence the underlying cause of the problem. For example, a patient’s back pain could be caused by local trauma, or it could be secondary to problems with the hocks.

Each patient’s treatment is tailored to its specific needs, depending on the nature of the injury and the condition of the individual horse. An acute laminitis case would have several treatments within days of each other, while horses with chronic back pain might have initial treatments spread out over one to two weeks, and continue treatments as progress is made.

Lascola says she selects her primary acupuncture points based on the areas of pain and identifies secondary points to influence the underlying cause of the problem.

Photo: University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine

“Regardless of the goal for the specific horse, it is important to make sure that each patient is relaxed and feels comfortable during the acupuncture procedure,” says Lascola.

Careful Diagnosis Is First Step

Most practitioners use acupuncture in conjunction with conventional treatment approaches. Like many adjunct therapies, the use of equine acupuncture is recommended based on the client’s interest and satisfaction and on the patient’s response to therapy.

“Horse owners who are interested in trying equine acupuncture need to commit to at least a few sessions, as progress is normally seen only after a few treatments,” says Lascola. She also says progress is often determined by client feedback: How does the horse behave or perform? How is his energy level? Does the horse seem more comfortable after each session?

Lascola cautions that a careful diagnosis of any underlying medical conditions and evaluation of all potential treatment options must take place before trying acupuncture. Acupuncture treatment is offered to decrease pain and increase comfort for patients in a way that is calming and not stressful.

About the Author

University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine

Learn more about the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine at vetmed.illinois.edu.

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