Introduction to Hoof Acupuncture

How does acupuncture work for horses feet? If you have a hand or foot problem that your doctor wants to treat with acupuncture, needles may be placed directly into your hands or feet. Since we cannot needle the horse’s foot directly, we place needles in various soft tissue locations that should influence foot physiology.

I say “should” because there is not yet research on acupuncture for horse feet to document exactly what is happening. But any equine veterinarian practicing acupuncture on horses can tell that clinically, we do see some effect, even though we are not yet sure which point or points are the most effective.

Over the next series of blog posts I will explain some basic concepts of acupuncture for the horse’s foot. In today’s blog you will get a quick intro to the big picture of how acupuncture works.

The short answer to the opening question—how does acupuncture work on horse feet if we can’t stick them directly—is that it works in other anatomic locations to affect the hoof!

Western Dressage Hoof AcupunctureResearch on acupuncture

Research over the past 40 years has begun to explain mechanisms of acupuncture for this clinical method that has been used for thousands of years. It is exciting to have scientific explanations for ancient healing practices as this increases acceptance of acupuncture in the veterinary medical community.

Acupuncture works in multiple ways, some known, and others yet to be explained. Placing a needle into any part of the body has an effect on the nervous system. Since the nervous system controls the internal environment of the body, we can influence processes inside of the hoof capsule by placing needles in places where the nervous system will “hear” the message and respond by changing the foot’s physiology.

Acupuncture influences the nervous system

The precise effect depends upon where in the body the needle is placed. Research has shown that acupuncture works at different levels of the nervous system simultaneously. The nervous system has a central component—including the brain and spinal cord—that is the main processing center.

The peripheral nervous system, which includes the limbs and organs, has two main parts. The somatic division is mostly under voluntary control. For example the muscles that your horse uses for standing posture as well as motion are mostly under the horse’s voluntary control. The autonomic nervous involves functions that happen automatically such as digestion, blood pressure regulation, and breathing. We are almost done with this introduction to acupuncture so stick with me!

Now that you have an idea of the different parts of the nervous system, think about how the horse’s foot requires all of these parts. There are no muscles in the foot, but the horse does have voluntary control over where feet are placed. The central processing in the brain and spinal cord directs the peripheral nervous system for posture control and movement.

Sensations coming from the feet direct the peripheral nervous system to send appropriate outgoing messages. For example if a horse feels foot pain, he may alter posture voluntarily.

Western Dressage Acupuncture Pain ReliefAcupuncture for pain relief

Acupuncture can be used to influence some of all of these processes. Acupuncture is used as part of standard veterinary medicine. That means we also use medication as needed. But sometimes medication is not enough to control pain. Or in some cases a horse will have adverse drug reactions and therefore have limited chances for pain control from medication.

Pain relief is the most well documented effect of acupuncture, but it can do a whole lot more! In upcoming blogs I will explain how acupuncture is used to treat foot disease. We will focus on laminitis as an example of treating the foot as well as the whole horse. Next week’s blog will look at acupuncture for foot pain. Subsequent blogs will cover acupuncture for underlying conditions including that can cause laminitis.


Copyright © 2012 ~ Dr. Lisa Lancaster DVM, WDAA Blog Author




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