4000 Years Of Veterinary Acupuncture

Human acupuncture is considered to have been practiced for several thousands of years - archaeological evidence suggests as early as 3000 years B.C. One of the earliest written documents "The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine" is dated 400-200 B.C. This record discusses the use of acupuncture in remarkable detail. It even explains that blood is controlled by the heart and flows continuously though the body - 2000 years before this was discovered by Western medicine.

The use of acupuncture in animals appears to have been used nearly as long as in humans. Government veterinarians treated livestock in the Chow Dynasty, 2303 B.C. Since then, it has been practiced continuously in China. Camels, horses and swine were among the species of particular importance during this era.

Veterinary acupuncture was practiced in France in the 1700's and early 1800's, having been introduced by Jesuits returning from China. The use of acupuncture in animals fell into disuse in Europe before modern veterinary medicine ar-rived in America.

During the past 20 years, a handful of veterinarians in France, Germany and Austria began transposing human acupuncture to animals. Although these early "modern" efforts progressed slowly, the results were encouraging. In the 1970's, after China was politically opened to the West, there began an active dialogue between veterinarians from China and the United States. Since this time, veterinary acupuncture in the Western world has rapidly developed into a useful and progressive clinical discipline.

In the USA, much of the pioneering in veterinary acupuncture was done by individuals associated with the National Association of Veterinary Acupuncture(NAVA). The NAVA was sponsored by the UCLA Pain Clinic. Since 1974, the principal focus of veterinary acupuncture has been the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS). Veterinarians affiliating with the IVAS represent at least 12 nationalities, numerous academic institutions, as well as a wide spectrum of practice interests. The society has endeavored to establish high standards for veterinary acupuncture through its post graduate educational programs and accreditation examinations.

In addition, the IVAS has encouraged dialogue with both human medical and veterinary disciplines which share common interests, i.e. immunology, neurology, and surgery. The IVAS has also maintained direct liaison with veterinary and medical schools in both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China.

How It Works - Oriental Perspective

Traditional Chinese Medicine describes an orderly system or network of interconnecting channels and meridians which exist in predictable locations throughout the body. There are 14 major meridians which conduct the flow of qi (chi). Qi is thought of as energy - a life sustaining vital force that regulates body functions as it circulates continuously through the meridian system. In order to maintain a state of weliness, however, it is essential that the qi energy flows in a smooth, harmonious and unobstructed manner. Internally the major meridians connect and communicate with specific organs.

Most illnesses and injuries are either caused by or accompanied by disturbances in the flow and balance of qi. Disorders in the function of qi can be influenced by treating acupuncture points. Most acupuncture points are located at a specific anatomical site where a meridian comes near the body surface. Humans are generally considered to have 365 classical acupuncture points associated with the major meridians.

Domestic animals have acupuncture points that correlate closely with man. Although most of these points are used in modern veterinary acupuncture, it is interesting to note that some domestic animals have points not found in people. Most points vary from 1.5 to 3.0 mm in diameter and are characterized as having a high electrical conductivity compared to the surrounding skin.

The behavior and function of qi is described by the time honored theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine. These theories are the traditional basis for enabling a veterinary acupuncturist to identify, localize and characterize specific patterns of energetic disharmonies in animals. Examples of these theories are the yin-yang theory. the five element theory and the eight principals (ba-gang).

Before an animal can be treated, a Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) diagnosis is made. This is accomplished through a systematic process of evaluating a patient by observing, touching, listening and inquiring (history, behavior, etc.). The TCM diagnosis, in turn, is the basis for planning or prescribing therapy.

A single acupuncture point of a group of points is selected to correct a patients specific energetic excesses and/or deficiencies. The acupuncture needle acts, in effect, like an opener and closer of doors... or gates, somewhat like locks on a water way. The needle summons or permits (pushes or pulls) energy from one pathway to another.

Through this process it is the intention of acupuncture to correct energetic disturbances and allow the body to govern and regulate itself in a normal manner. The patient, in effect, heals itself, not through palliation or suppression, but by correcting what is fundamentally wrong.

Western View of Acupuncture

ln the recent past, the Western world has not known how to accept acupuncture. Culturally, it has not always been easy or comfortable to deal with. The oriental view of health and illness contrasts sharply with the occidental. In addition, many facets of acupuncture have not been able to be immediately explained in tangible terms of Western thought and experience. Many Western authorities viewed acupuncture not only with skepticism, but disdain. Unable to understand "how it works" it was often characterized as being "unscientific" and presumed to operate through the power of suggestion. It was essentially dismissed as a curious and antiquated form of poetic folk medicine.

Culturally, a lot has happened since 1968. Our collective experience since then has told us, in effect, that it is alright to look seriously at acupuncture... thoughts and concepts need not be rejected just because they are not of occidental origin. ln fact, we have culturally recognized that we owe it to ourselves to learn about this subject - to see how it applies to us and our animals. After all, it is the most thoroughly field tested form of medical treatment known.

Today, acupuncture must be taken seriously. There has now been several years of clinical experience by Western practitioners applying acupuncture to a wide variety of scientific knowledge concerning acupuncture. This experience and knowledge have established acupuncture as a valid modality for both human and veterinary therapy.

How Acupuncture Works - Western Perspective

Scientific investigations have given some important insights into how acupuncture works. The following summarize some of the current scientific theories concerning acupuncture. It is important to recognize, however, that so far no single modern theory can, by itself, explain all the phenomena associated with acupuncture healing.

  • Bioelectric theory
    This theory suggests that the basis of coordinating and regulating biological processes is to be found in physics - in an electrical dimension - not chemistry. This concept recognizes that polarized electric-like energy fields exist in and around animal bodies and, more particularly, around each cell. Further, these electric fields are associated with a network of circuits that continuously conduct minute amounts of direct current throughout the body. This current is conducted by cells forming an entirely different conduction system - the perineural cells, located around nerve fibers. Unlike nerve cells, the perireural cells conduct current by a process known as semi-conduction, which is somewhat slower than ordinary motor or sensory nerve impulses.
    This bioclectric current is responsive to minute electromagnetic forces and is responsible for initiating, coordinating and regulating many body functions. It is also very susceptible to influence by external electromagnetic fields.
    In this context, acupuncture points are analogous to amplifiers; the meridians serve as conductors and the qi is comparable to bioclectricity. Acupuncture needles, according to this theory, electrically affect the body's bioclectricity in a beneficial way, assisting the body to return to a condition where it can resume regulating itself in a normal manner.

  • Humeral Theory
    This theory suggests that the way acupuncture works is by releasing specific chemical substances into the blood and other body fluids. For example, some acupuncture points, when stimulated, release potent morphine-like substances which can alleviate pain. The most well-studied category of hypoalgesic (pain reducing) humeral substances are the endorphins.
    Acupuncture is known to be capable of stimulating the immune system. Antibodies are produced in greater quantity. White blood cells are not only released in greater numbers, but function more efficiently (phagocytosis) during microbial infections. In addition, acupuncture can be effective in treating many allergic-like reactions, as well as harmful inflammatory reactions, i.e. autoimmune disease and fever. There is strong evidence that this is possible because humeral substances are released following acupuncture treatment. Other humeral factors associated with acupuncture treatment are neurotransmitters such as serotonin and epinephrine; and hormones such as cortisol and thyroxin.

  • Neurophysiologic Theory
    This theory is based on the hypotheses that acupuncture works because there is a physical relationship between acupuncture points and peripheral nerves.
    It is well known that there are a greater number of neuroreceptors (nerve endings that transmit information such as pain, heat or pressure) at or near most acupuncture sites. In addition, most acupuncture points have a close physical relationship to peripheral nerves. For example, acupuncture points are often located where nerves attach to major muscles, bones, tendons, or blood vessels.
    Properly placed acupuncture needles, therefore, are thought to communicate directly with specific neuroreceptors, which in turn send a specific message through the body's autonomic nervous system.
    This neurologic message ultimately modifies the mechanisms which ordinarily regulate and control an animal's physiology. Knowing what acupuncture point to treat is more or less like knowing what neurological switches to turn off or on in the animal's nervous system in order to help make it well, i.e. inhibit pain, increase cardiac output, suppress the cough reflex or stimulate bone healing.

    Contemporary Veterinary Acupuncture

    Today in the United States, practicing veterinarians utilize acupuncture in a wide variety of clinical settings. Some accept only cases referred by other veterinarians, i.e. equine lameness. Most utilize acupuncture as a part of their otherwise day to day practice - both traditional and holistic. This includes not only small animals (dogs and cats), but horses, cattle, sheep, swine, and avian species.

    Except for a few select treatments, a considerable ammount of specialized knowledge is required in order to practice veterinary acupuncture satisfactorily. Of the approximately 300 veterinary acupuncturists in the U.S. today, half have received post graduate training and have been certified by the International Society of Veterinary Acupuncturists. Certification requires a sound understanding of the principles and practice of TCM as well as integration of current scientific theories with knowledge of acupuncture into Western clinical veterinary medicine. The IVAS emphasizes the importance of acupuncturists making both a Western and TCM diagnosis for each patient.

    There are several different approaches and methodologies for treating animals with acupuncture. instead of inserting fine sterile metallic needles into acupuncture points, there are occasions where heat may be more appropriate (moxibustion). Manual pressure (acupressure), low voltage electricity (electroacupuncture) and sound (sonopuncture) also have particular applications. In some circumstances, very small sterile gold or silver beads are surgically implanted in the precise site of acupuncture points. The use of light as in the case of lasers can be very effective. ID the case of a small volume of a sterile liquid, such as vitamin B12 is infected into acupuncture points, particularly when a period of prolonged stimulation is indicated.

    Simply stated, veterinary acupuncture today involves combining the principles of classical Chinese medicine into a western scientific and clinical background. This integration process has had numerous positive consequences including the stimulation of a dynamic and rapidly progressing clinical discipline. It has contributed to the depth and perspective of the veterinary profession as a whole as well as producing alternatives and choices available to the animal owning public.

    Most states in the U.S. require a license to practice veterinary medicine as a prerequisite to practicing veterinary acupuncture. Some states require further evidence of post graduate training and/or certification.

    Some Recent Innovations

    During recent decades, two of the more significant applications of acupuncture in animals are auricular therapy, and EAV. Auricular therapy involves the use of a rather extensive pattern of acupuncture points located specifically on animal's ears. These auricular points are used for both diagnosis and treatment. For example, in cattle, disorders involving the rumen, small intestines, liver, uterus, ovaries, and udder can be treated by using auricular points.

    EAV or Electroacupuncture According to Voll was developed by Rhinhart Voll, a German physician. This very useful clinical tool is based on the knowledge that the electrical properties of acupuncture points change in rather predictable ways in response to various disease conditions. By measuring the electrical skin resistance over acupuncture points, several kinds of useful information can be obtained concerning the condition and function of each individual acupuncture meridian - information that quantifies, qualifies, and localizes a patient's energetic disturbances.

    This methodology can also provide information which can strongly suggest what specific substanccs (environmental, medicinal, and nutritional) offend or benefit the body's effort to restore harmony and balance to its acupuncture meridian system. In effect, it permits the veterinarian to ask an animal's body what substances it will accept as being capable of helping it become well.

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