A certified acupuncture practitioner will palpate acupoints and determine the horse's reaction, Rathgeber explains. "The central
nervous system reflects a map of pain based on the meridians or channels. When pain is present, inflammation, an increase
or decrease in circulation and increased or decreased muscle tone also are present. Therefore when the meridians are palpated,
the examiner will notice a difference in the quality of the tissue. The practitioner applies a light, consistent pressure
from point to point and notes the reaction."
The information gained from the acupuncture exam can help decide what area to palpate, flex or radiograph, Rathgeber says.
"The TCM examination is a diagnostic tool that can be used to its fullest potential in conjunction with a thorough Western
For example, one might locate a stifle problem via acupuncture, then the practitioner would block, ultrasound, radiograph
and possibly treat the inside of the stifle to complete the examination, Rathgeber says.
"If there is obstruction, the point is very reactive. The acupoints may be firm, yielding to pressure, tightening under pressure,
warm, cold, and so on. A reactive point might trigger a muscle spasm or an evasive or aggressive reaction. Some horses will
feel so much pain when pressure is applied that they will bite or kick. Generally, a reaction to light pressure indicates
a more acute condition, and response to deep pressure indicates a long-standing condition."
TCM can play a key role in diagnosis of obscure lameness by identifying syndromes through patterns of sensitivity at certain
points, Rathgeber explains.
The veterinary acupuncturist can translate the map of the acupoint pathways and determine the source of the pain. "Diagnostic
acupuncture should be used with other modalities, including nerve blocks, flexion tests, ultrasound, radiography and nuclear
scintigraphy to achieve the best diagnosis and the best possible treatment," Rathgeber says.
Another practitioner agrees. "I find acupuncture an extremely beneficial tool for both diagnostics as well as therapeutics,"
says Allen M. Schoen, DVM, MS, veterinary acupuncturist in Sherman, Conn.
"I look for patterns of reactive acupuncture points. Certain patterns reflect the way a horse compensates for certain lameness
issues. There are predictable patterns for hock problems or foot problems ... and for chronic back problems, saddle issues,
for many lameness issues. The level of reactivity at different points gives you an indication of whether something is a primary
issue or a secondary issue."
"We use it (acupuncture) almost exclusively for diagnosis," adds Cletus Vonderwell, DVM, semi-retired veterinary acupuncturist
in Ohio who recently received honorary lifetime membership in the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society.
"Historically, when we saw (race)horses, we did not want to know how they'd been racing or what they'd been doing right or
wrong on the track. We preferred to watch them on the track, go over them (with an acupuncture exam) and then tell the trainer
what the horse was doing wrong. I did not want a history on the horse, but I wanted the horse to tell me where he was hurting.
When you're right it looks pretty impressive; when you're not you don't look too smart," says Vonderwall.
"Acupuncture enables me to give a more definitive diagnosis, in my opinion, no question about it," he adds.