Introduction to Equine Acupuncture

Madalyn Ward, DVM

Acupuncture is a system of medicine developed in China over 3000 years ago. Veterinarians receive their Acupuncture training through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. This course gives a basic introduction to traditional Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture point location and action. The emphasis in equine Acupuncture is the treatment of the musculoskeletal system, however, Acupuncture can also treat chronic disease. Research has shown that stimulation of Acupuncture points causes a systemic reaction in the body. Basic Principles In addition to the cardiovascular and nervous system the body also has an energy system. Energy or Qi flows through the body in pathways called meridians. These meridians are regulated by Acupuncture points. There are 12 main pairs of meridians and 2 unpaired meridians.


The Bladder Meridian is one of the most often treated meridians on the horse. It is located along each side of the spine and contains some of the most important Acupuncture points in the body. Acupuncture points are located on meridians and control the flow of energy through them. Dysfunction occurs when the energy flow is blocked or imbalanced with one meridian containing too much energy and another too little. The goal of Acupuncture treatment is to remove blockages and balance energy flow through the body. For example, the Lung and associated Large Intestine Meridians may be affected in a horse recovering from a respiratory infection. These meridians run down the inside and outside respectively of the front leg, therefore, energy blockages in these meridians may cause front leg lameness. The Lung Association point is located on the Bladder Meridian immediately behind the shoulder blade and soreness at this point may cause resistance to tightening of the girth. The Large Intestine Association point is located on the Bladder Meridian in the Middle Gluteal muscle and soreness of this point may result in hind leg lameness.

Acupuncture Points can be stimulated by several methods:

Acupuncture needles
Aqua puncture - injecting fluid into point
Electro-acupuncture - electrical stimulation of points
Moxibustion - use of heat on points
Cold laser - use of light on points
Gold beads - implanted surgically

The use of Acupuncture to balance energy in the body is based on the Chinese principle of Yin and Yang. For the body to function at optimum levels it must have a balance of Yin and Yang just as the Earth needs a balance of day and night,summer and winter, etc. Traditional Chinese medicine does not consider viruses or bacteria as causes of disease, instead they recognize External Environmental Pathogens that imbalance our systems allowing these organisms to multiply.

Examples of such pathogens include:


These pathogens can invade at the level of the meridians on the surface of the body or deeper in the body to cause serious disease. Example: Invasion of the Stomach Meridian by Cold would cause stiffness as Cold causes contraction. Since the Stomach Meridian runs over the stifle joint stiffness in this area early in a ride before the horse warms up might be the presenting symptom. Example: Heat invading the Lungs would present as a fever, cough with thick yellow discharge.

These symptoms suggest a systemic or Internal imbalance rather than a localized or external one.

Conditions Treated with Acupuncture:

Lung problems
Chronic cough
Allergic bronchitis
Reproductive problems
Ovarian pain associated with heat cycles
Internal medicine problems
Digestive tract problems
Excess gas
Neck problems
Pain and stiffness
Nerve inflammation
Neurologic disorders
Nerve damage
Behavior problems
Many are related to pain or energy imbalance
Chronic pain
Musculoskeletal disorders
Laminitis - acute and chronic
Tying up or azoturia
Colic (acute and chronic)
Need good conventional diagnosis
Not a replacement for surgery

Evaluation of Treatment

Poor Response
Minimal or no improvement
after 4 to 8 sessions - small animals
after 2 to 4 sessions - large animals
Results last only a few days after each treatment. Animal is uncomfortable with practitioner may be wrong diagnosis or wrong practitioner

Evaluation of Treatment

Good Response
Improvement in
4 to 8 sessions - small animals
1 to 4 sessions - large animals
Treatment should be a pleasant experience for the horse Occasionally sore after treatment

2002-2004 Madalyn Ward and Bear Creek Veterinary Clinic. All rights reserved. Please visit Holistic Horsekeeping for more information.

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