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The Benefits of Acupuncture in Horses

At Steinbeck Peninsula Equine Clinics, we have found that integrating complementary medicine techniques to our treatment plans has led to greater success when managing lameness cases, painful conditions, and various disease processes. It also helps us maintain the musculoskeletal health of all our patients from the athletic performer to the retired horse.

Several Steinbeck Peninsula Equine veterinarians have attended specialized training programs to become certified in acupuncture. It’s important to be aware that you must be a veterinarian and complete a certified program to be a true equine acupuncturist.

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is considered to be under the umbrella of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and involves the stimulation of predetermined spots, called “acupuncture points”. In TCM, acupuncture points are often associated with “meridians” to stimulate movement of qi (“chi”) energy. There are multiple free nerve endings at these acupuncture points, that when stimulated sends messages to the brain. As a result, the brain tells the body to produce different chemicals and hormones that help the body to heal.

Some points are associated with different organs or useful when treating specific disease processes, such as laminitis, liver disease, and stomach ulcers. The effects of acupuncture are attributed to multiple mechanisms involving the nervous system, immune system, and endocrine system.

In equine practice, we commonly use acupuncture to complement our treatments for lame horses and aid in pain relief. “Trigger points” are also known as acupuncture points, which can be described as reactive areas that are usually associated with muscle tension or knots. We can scan the horse as a diagnostic technique to observe the reactive regions associated with musculoskeletal problems.

In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes the effectiveness of acupuncture as a form of analgesia, or pain relief. Acupuncture can also be an effective way of treating chronic pain of the musculoskeletal system with restricted joint movements. It has been shown to not only treat pain, but also reduce muscle spasms, which result in abnormal loading of different joints causing the clinical signs associated with pain. Many of our geriatric (older, retired patients) benefit from routine acupuncture treatments to maintain their musculoskeletal health and alleviate pain commonly associated with many of the disease processes that are associated with age, such as arthritis.

The Science of Acupuncture

Stimulation of acupuncture points near the body surface produces effects carried out by the nervous, immune, endocrine, cardiovascular, and other systems that promote healing. The stimulation of the free nerve endings can result in local and distant effects within the body. Effects can be summarized by five mechanisms of action: local effects, segmental analgesia, extrasegmental analgesia, central regulatory effects, and myofascial trigger points.

There are multiple ways for stimulating these nerve endings:

  • Dry needling – the insertion of a needle into a predetermined spot

  • Aquapuncture – injection of a fluid into an acupuncture point, often vitamin B12

  • Electroacupuncture – attachment of electrodes to acupuncture needles inserted into an acupuncture point. The intensity, frequency, and pulse type can be manipulated to provide appropriate treatment for individual patients

  • Moxibustion – the burning of an herb, often “mugwort” (Artemisia vulgaris) on an acupuncture point or over the skin at am acupuncture point. This is often used for treatment of chronic muscular and arthritic pain.

  • Hemoacupuncture – a procedure where a hypodermic needle causes bleeding at an acupuncture point

  • Cold Laser/Infra-red (IR) Stimulator – the use of a laser to stimulate acupuncture points, often times at extremities. This is also useful with horses that are needle-shy who would benefit from acupuncture.

For additional information:


  • Boldt, E. (2016). Veterinary Acupuncture and Chiropractic: What, When, Who? Retrieved February 16, 2018, from

  • Kenney, J. (2011). Acupuncture and Pain Management. AAEP Proceedings, 57, 121-137.

  • Larson, E. (2016, June 10). How Does Acupuncture Work? The Horse.


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