Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medical technique that primarily involves the insertion of very fine needles into specific points on the body to help to bring the body back into a state of equilibrium.
Acupuncture has been used in people and production animals by the Chinese for at least four thousand years. Since the 1970s the technique has become better known in Western countries and has been applied to domestic animals like cats and dogs with great success.
Nowadays, acupuncture is becoming well accepted by both the medical and veterinary professions as an alternative treatment that in some instances gives results far in excess of regular Western medicine.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
The Chinese have developed highly complex theory to guide the practitioner of acupuncture. This theory has been refined through careful observations of the patterns of disharmony in humans and animals over millennia.
Acupuncture from a Chinese perspective influences the flow of energy (Qi) through energy meridians that run between the internal organs and close to the surface of the body. By selecting certain combinations of acupuncture points the functions of the internal organs and structures along the meridians can be improved.
Much research has been carried in recent years to try to explain the mechanisms of acupuncture from a scientific, Western viewpoint. It has proven to block painful stimuli at the level of the spinal cord and also cause the release of a number of other natural substances in the body that help to relieve pain and inflammation (for example endorphins—natural morphine-related chemicals), and to influence brain neuro-transmitters and a variety of hormone levels.
The needles are very sharp so their insertion is not very painful and the release of endorphins often makes the animal relax during treatment.
What Conditions Can Acupuncture Treat?
Acupuncture can be used alone or in combination with other treatments to control a wide variety of disorders. It is particularly useful for conditions of the musculoskeletal system such as arthritis, lameness, spinal disease and muscular pain. It can also be used to treat diseases of the nervous, gastrointestinal, cardiac, respiratory, reproductive, urinary and immune systems as well as skin conditions.
Acupuncture is very safe and does not have the side effects sometimes seen with drug therapy.
Pam Short was certified as a Veterinary Acupuncturist by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society in 1995 and has since built a strong reputation in the field. She now receives referral cases from all over Sydney.
Mark Hocking has also been using acupuncture at GVH for several years and completed the International veterinary acupuncture society course.
What Does Acupuncture Treatment Involve?
This information provides some background information as an aid to clients who are considering acupuncture treatment for their pet. The treatments are generally well tolerated by the animal and are normally performed in a consultation room with the owner present.
Each treatment lasts 10-30 minutes and most frequently occur at weekly intervals. Some animals will improve rapidly after a treatment, others may get a little worse for about a day before improving and others will need several treatments before any improvement is noted.
The number of sessions involved is dependent on the problem being treated. If you have any questions relating to Acupuncture, Pam Short or Mark Hocking will be very happy to discuss them with you.
What is a Trigger Point?
You probably know what a Trigger Point is if you have had a massage – they are localised, hyperirritable areas, found within muscles, that are often exquisitely painful on gentle compression. In humans they are known to give rise to characteristic referred pain and can cause changes in internal organ function, as well as focal tenderness (found within a taut band in the muscle), restriction in range of motion of the joints and weakness of the affected muscle. Not all trigger points are perceived as painful (active) and may only be painful with additional pressure (latent). One of the most common trigger points in people is in the trapezius muscle (where a singlet/dress strap would sit on the shoulder). If you press gently on this area and you find a firm area that is tender, you have just found a trigger point.
As well as being a very common cause of stiffness and musculoskeletal pain in humans, they are also commonly found in other animal species, including dogs and cats and often contribute to (or cause) lameness and stiffness. The pain from trigger points varies from being mild and intermittent to being severe enough to cause non-weight bearing lameness.
How Do Trigger Points Developed?
Trigger points are thought to develop in skeletal muscle due to acute overload, overwork fatigue, direct trauma, chilling, as well as secondarily to other trigger points, internal organ disease and arthritis. The localised muscle contracture (spasm) present within a trigger point can persist for months or years after the trigger point has formed.
In dogs and cats, trigger points will often develop after musculoskeletal injury or surgery and in animals with arthritis. Once an animal has recovered from a painful condition or injury, there may be ongoing stiffness or lameness due to unresolved trigger points in the muscles. Trigger points will often occur in all four legs simultaneously (even though they may be causing most pain and lameness in one leg). Trigger point pain is often worse in cold weather and can improve with slight exercise but worsen with more strenuous activity. Stretching of the muscles helps to prevent the formation of trigger points.
How Can Trigger Points be Diagnosed?
Trigger points can be diagnosed by carefully observing the animal’s gait (shortening of a muscle will lead to a change in posture or movement), gently feeling the muscles for localised areas of firmness or tenderness (often leading to a yelp/jump from the dog, though some animals are very stoic) and testing the ranges of motion of joints. Joints will not move a normal amount in certain directions if the muscles around the joint have trigger points. X-rays and ultrasound are not of use to diagnose trigger points. There is often little or no improvement with pain-killing or muscle-relaxing medication.
Some common trigger points are shown in this illustration.
What Can be Done to Treat Trigger Points?
Many physical therapies are of use in treating trigger points. Treatment normally requires stimulation of the affected area, which causes some relaxation of the trigger point in the muscle, to allow the muscle to be gently stretched to its full length. At Gladesville Vet Hospital the stimulation techniques used include pressure/release massage, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and certain acupuncture methods. Gentle warming, massage and stretching techniques are usually shown to the owner to reduce the recurrence of trigger points. Treatment sessions normally last approximately 30 minutes. There is often a good to dramatic improvement in an animal’s lameness after up to four treatments. Maintenance treatments may or may not be necessary depending on the animal’s condition.