Acupuncture is an older form of medicine that predates modern medical science. Traditionally this practice has been based on an understanding of proposed energy channels or meridians.
Only recently has science been used to explain the effects of acupuncture in more modern terms. Research into the mechanisms of acupuncture’s effects has increased dramatically over the last several years. This is allowing us to explain what has been observed by acupuncturists for centuries, to critically challenge acupuncture’s traditional tenets where appropriate, and to adapt our techniques to more accurately reflect the current science.
The basis of acupuncture is neuromodulation. By using points located just under the skin along nerves, acupuncture stimulates various parts of the spinal cord and brain to release pain-decreasing substances and growth factors and to promote a sense of relaxation and well-being. Additionally, local and central effects combine to increase blood flow to targeted areas, such as organs, muscles or joints. The fact that practitioners of acupuncture developed techniques long before this science existed is truly remarkable. Even more exciting is our emerging understanding of how this works from a modern medical perspective.
One very exciting development in recent times has been electroacupuncture, which is the application of electrical stimulation to the acupuncture needles. Many clinical studies in both human and veterinary patients involve electroacupuncture, and this technique appears to enhance the positive effects of needle placement alone.
Both acupuncture and electroacupuncture are accepted well by most patients. For those who are needle-shy, we distract with tasty treats, relaxing music therapy, and aromatherapy. For those patients who are completely unwilling to have needles placed, we use an acupuncture tip over the therapeutic laser to target specific acupuncture points.
For those clients who have had acupuncture themselves and found it not comfortable, please know that the aim of veterinary medical acupuncture is to stimulate nerve pathways without causing pain. We do this by focusing more on pressure receiving (mechanoreceptor) than pain receiving (nociceptor) pathways. We know that we do not have the luxury of explaining to our patients what we are doing, and we want to be able to continue to provide acupuncture treatment to them.