What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a medical practice dating back thousands of years. The Chinese are probably the most famous practitioners of this therapy but there is evidence to suggest that other cultures developed a similar method of treating ailments and providing pain relief. It is believed that the practice of acupuncture evolved gradually from people rubbing and massaging their aches and pains, to using blunt tools to ease out deep-seated knots within their muscles. This is believed to have advanced to the use of sharp penetrating intruments to pierce the skin over painful areas. Originally these tools were made of bone or stone before progressing to metal needles - nowadays of the stainless steel, sterile, single-use variety.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
Sarah Burndred - the vet who practices acupuncture here at Ribble Vets - has been trained according to Western Scientific Approach, rather than in a traditional Chinese capacity. The Western Scientific Approach is based on the understanding that needling specific areas close to a site of pain causes nervous signals to be passed to the brain via the spinal cord, ultimately resulting in the release of endorphins, or naturally occurring pain killing chemicles, which help to "dampen down" truly painful signals from a problem area. Additionally, "knots" in muscles, also referred to as trigger points, can really benefit from being needled, and these are often present in animals who are holding themselves in such a position as to guard or protect a sore area. Acupuncture has other beneficial effects in normalising the activities of the internal organs - depending on where the needles are placed. Please see below for a more detailed explanation of acupuncture as a form of pain relief.
Which Conditions are Suitable for Treatment?
There is a very extensive list of canine and feline ailments that could be helped by acupuncture. Most notably these include:
Skeletal abnormalities such as arthritis, spondylosis (fusion of the spinal verterbrae), pain from the hip or elbow dysplasia or vertebral disc pain.
Muscular problems such as strains, sprains, spasms - some of which are found in conjunction from arthritic animals holding themselves in a "guarded" posture.
Skin disorders such as lick granulomas. These are sores caused by excessive licking - either as a force of habit or due to underlying skeletal pain.
Internal organ dysfunction such as gut stasis in rabbits and urinary bladder problems.
A More Detailed Explanation
Broadly speaking animals (including humans) can detect two categories of pain. Firstly, sharp, acute pain such as that felt when you burn yourself; secondly, dull, chronic pain such as that experienced by arthritis sufferers.
Sharp pain signals are transmitted to the brain by nerves that conduct their impulses very quickly, so called FAST pain fibres. These cause an instant reaction (e.g. drop the hot pan) to get the person or animal out of immediate danger and limit potential tissue damage (in this example burning). Thankfully this pain is short lived because the nerves involved go on to produce pain killing chemicals at their endings to numb the discomfort.
Dull pain is signalled by SLOW pain fibres and is a long term sensation. It encourages an animal to rest up and promotes healing, but after a while is detrimental as it can seriously reduce an animal's quality of life.
Acupuncture needles stimulate fast pain fibres and ultimately also induces these same nerves to produce their pain killing chemicals. Once released from the fast nerve fibres these natural pain killers also act on slow nerve fibres within the same locality, therefore acupuncture needles placed close to a painful region can reduce the sensation of chronic pain from this region.
Acupuncture also stimulates the release of chemicals from nerve endings that improve blood flow to an area and can encourage damaged nerves to grow, thus promoting healing.