Ancient science aids modern equine medicine

Ancient science aids modern equine medicine

Acupuncture gaining acceptance as an adjunct to current treatments
Feb 01, 2009

Pinpointing the trouble spot: Dr. Huisheng Xie demonstrates dry-needle acupuncture (2.5-in. to 6-in. needles) on a 12-year-old mare to treat hinderquarter weakness at the wet lab of the Chi Institute Advanced Equine Acupuncture Class 2009.
A healing science that dates back thousands of years in another culture has gained acceptance steadily in recent years as a method of diagnosing and treating lameness in horses.

"When administered by a properly trained veterinarian, acupuncture is one of the safest forms of medical treatment, and is said to shorten the healing process by half," says Rhonda Rathgeber, DVM, PhD, an equine acupuncturist at the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Ky.

Acupuncture concentrates on the animal as an "energetic being" within its environment, according to Huisheng Xie, DVM, PhD, clinical associate professor at the University of Florida, who says the practice of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM/TCM) in horses dates back to 974 to 928 B.C., and to 1608 A.D. as a means of diagnosing and treating equine lameness.

Treating lameness: Dr. Huisheng Xie examines an 11-year-old stallion with an acupuncture needle in treatment of lameness at the wet lab of the Chi Institute Veterinary Herbal Medicine Kidney Module 2007.
TCM emphasizes the "Qi," or total energy of the horse, which passes along a network of meridians or channels similar to an electric current. Qi maintains balance in bodily functions, Xie explains. When disease or injury are present, this energy or the body's homeostasis is in imbalance, and that disruption short-circuits the body, causing malfunction.

TCVM practitioners state the rule, "Where there is pain, there must be blockage of Qi flow, and where there is free flow of Qi there is no pain," says Xie.

Diagnosing lameness

Some veterinarians may use sensitivity at the acupuncture points to localize lameness, and then treat the problem with Western methods or with acupuncture therapy.

"The diagnostic acupoints lead us to a definitive diagnosis," says Marvin Cain, DVM, veterinary acupuncturist in Union, Ky.

"These have all been confirmed either ultrasonically or radiographically, so they're not theoretical diagnostics. They have been verified by both what the horse shows us, and with radiographs and other diagnostic modalities to confirm what we find. With acupuncture, you can pinpoint lameness conditions just as well, if not better; and it is just as accurate, and even more helpful, than the other modalities because of cost," Cain says.

"Palpation is a neglected art anymore," he adds. "Veterinarians don't palpate or auscultate to diagnose, but depend upon on the various technologies which often are very misleading. But the body doesn't lie, especially when we can go back and use some of these techniques (e.g., scintigraphy) to verify. The advantage is that acupuncture is far less costly to the owner, and the accuracy is such that if we pick up a knee for a carpal joint we can tell using acupuncture whether it's a third carpal or a radial carpal, and it negates the necessity of multiple radiographs."

An equine veterinarian successfully used a TCM examination to pinpoint fetlock pain in 327 racehorses, Rathgeber says. "He used a thorough TCM diagnostic exam to evaluate each horse. The points specific to fetlock pain were sensitive in every horse. The sensitive points disappeared after the suspicious fetlock joint was blocked with an intra-articular joint block. The blocks eliminate the pain and therefore eliminate the sensitivity in the acupoint."