It may seem odd that being stuck with needles can help reduce pain, but that is the case when acupuncture is used for pain relief. As acupuncture use in veterinary medicine is growing, one common use is for treating pain.
At the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, Dr. Stuart Clark-Price, head of the anesthesiology section, offers acupuncture therapy for dogs and horses to promote orthopedic rehabilitation and, increasingly, to manage pain.
"Acupuncture is one of many pain management options available for veterinary patients, and it is typically used in conjunction with other approaches," says Dr. Clark-Price. "It is nice to have a non-pharmaceutical option for dealing with pain."
It does seem counterintuitive, but acupuncture needles do not hurt. The needles used are sterile and very thin. The goal is to stimulate the nerve. Because acupuncture can affect nerve signaling, it is a logical tool for managing pain.
It seems to be most effective in treating cases of chronic pain, but patients recovering from surgery are also good candidates for acupuncture therapy. Dogs that have undergone orthopedic surgeries, such as repair of a torn cruciate ligament or hip surgeries, can benefit.
In horses, acupuncture may be used for pain management in colic surgery cases. It is also useful for treating chronic pain in horses. Horses get sore muscles, especially back muscles that are stressed from the saddle. This type of pain is more often seen in athlete-horses that experience great physical demands. Horses with chronic lameness can benefit from the added relief provided by acupuncture.
Acupuncture had been added to the "toolbox" for pain management at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at the University of Illinois and elsewhere.