Medical Acupuncture for Your Horse



Equine Acupuncture

Many of our clients have discovered the benefits of alternative therapies such as acupuncture for their horses and themselves. Our doctors have completed intensive training in this modality, receiving their CVA (Certified Veterinary Medical Acupuncturist) from the Medical Acupuncture for Veterinarians program, which is sponsored by Colorado State University, the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association, and the International Academy of Veterinary Medical Acupuncture.  Our doctors provide acupuncture and electroacupuncture treatments, on the farm and at the hospital, that can be easily integrated with conventional veterinary medicine.

The Scientific Basis

“We’ve all seen them – acupuncture models with dots and lines that represent so-called ‘points’ and ‘meridians.’ Do these structures exist? Do they matter? Yes, and yes, despite skeptics’ strong disavowal of their presence.

Contrary to the popular notion that these lines trace out ‘energy’ pathways just beneath the skin, the linear channels correspond to deeper nerves, vessels and myofascial  cleavage planes.

In that structure dictates function, stimulation of a nerve with  an acupuncture needle, electrical stimulus or laser beam activates the nerve, inducing changes consistent with its  motor, sensory or autonomic nature. Some peripheral nerves link to brainstem centers that participate in the restoration and control of homeostasis.”

Equine Acupressure


Acupuncture takes into consideration the animal as a “whole” and not simply as an isolated system. The ancient Chinese discovered that the health of the body depends on the state of Qi (pronounced ‘chee’). Qi is the life force or vital energy. It is believed that pain or illness develops when the flow of Qi is disrupted.  The goal of acupuncture is to restore balance and help the body heal by re-establishing homeostasis.

In the simplest sense, acupuncture helps restore balance in the body through the insertion of very fine, sterile needles at specific locations.  The insertion of these needles at acupuncture points modulates the body’s physiological responses, resulting in therapeutic homeostatic effects. In a broader sense, acupuncture is an ancient procedure used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for the treatment of whole-body conditions.

Modern research shows that acupoints are located in regions of the body where there is a high density of free nerve endings, mast cells, small arterioles and lymphatic vessels. A number of studies indicate that stimulation at acupoints induces the release of beta-endorphins (“runners high”), serotonin and other neurotransmitters. Physiological effects induced by acupuncture include: pain relief, regulation of gastrointestinal motility, anti-inflammatory effects, etc. Acupuncture for pain relief is well supported by scientific studies. Acupuncture’s effects on “balancing” the body is less well understood.  As additional scientific studies are conducted, the mechanism of this ancient therapy will hopefully be better understood.

~ Narda Robinson DO, DVM

Clinical trials suggest that acupuncture therapy can be effective when integrated with conventional medicine. Conditions that acupuncture can benefit include, but are not limited to:

Musculoskeletal problems: Muscle soreness, back pain, neck pain, osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease, laminitis, obscure lameness, temporomandibular joint pain, navicular disease, etc.

Neurological disorders: Facial and radial nerve paralysis, laryngeal hemiplegia, head-shaking, etc.

Reproductive disorders: Infertility (mares and stallions), impotence, penile paralysis, etc.

Gastrointestinal disorders: Nonsurgical colics (ileus, etc), diarrhea, gastric-ulcers, impaction, etc.

Pain management: Post-operative recovery, adjunct to anesthesia during surgery, etc.

Other conditions: Anhydrosis, heaves, recurrent uveitis, , behavioral problems, Cushing’s disease, hypo- or hyperthyroidism, etc.

Performance enhancement and prevention of disease


A typical acupuncture treatment begins with a myofascial palpation. This quick, non-painful palpation involves running a blunt object (such as a needle hub) over the horse’s body.  During this examination, sensitivity at specific acupuncture and ‘trigger’ points are localized. The results of the myofascial exam will help guide the horse’s acupuncture treatment. The length of each acupuncture treatment varies between individual patients, but on average takes between 15-30 minutes (not including the myofascial examination). The number of treatments required depends on the nature, severity and chronicity of the horse’s condition. Typically, treatments begin at weekly intervals for 3-4 weeks and then the frequency is decreased as needed for the patient. However, for an acute condition, a single treatment may be enough.

Take Home Message

There is a well-researched scientific basis for the mechanism of acupuncture analgesia, the extent and depth of which continue to expand.

Jackie Christakos, DVM
Rebecca S Dietz, DVM
William French, DVM
Shannon Murray, DVM, MS, DACVS