Acupuncture has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years (the first recordings were determined to be over 4,000 years ago!). According to TCM, Qi, AKA life force energy, flows along meridians (or specific pathways) within the body. When there is a blockage along these meridians, it results in a Qi blockage, manifesting as pain and/or other symptoms (behavior change, lethargy, lumps/bumps, etc). Acupuncture is used to resolve this blockage by stimulating these points. Points are stimulated by inserting small, stainless steel needles into specific points along the meridians. They can also be stimulated with pressure (called acupressure), injection of B-12, saline, or blood (called aquapuncture), moxa (an herb is placed over the point to warm it, called moxabustion), attaching leads to the needles and sending a gentle current into them (called electrostimulation), and even laser. This stimulation in turn balances the body, and a balanced body will naturally heal itself.
Research in the Western world has discovered that meridians correspond with nerve pathways within the body, and the points themselves are located in areas of a higher density of superficial nerves, immune cells, and small vessels. This translates to a higher degree of response in these specific points than in other areas of the body.
When a needle is inserted, it results in tissue relaxation and relief of muscle spasms. It also stimulates immune cells and blood flow, releasing cellular messengers (called cytokines) that improve overall immune function. The needle also stimulates the fast nerve fibers that are responsible for acute sensation, going to the spinal cord and blocking signals from the fibers associated with chronic pain. This response then travels to the brain, resulting in a release of endorphins, endogenous (meaning the body produces them) opioids, and serotonin. This results in pain relief, an improved mood, and improved immune function.
Acupuncture has a growing amount of research to demonstrate its efficacy. Click on the links below to read more:
As you can see in this video, most patients tolerate acupuncture very well. Once the needles are placed, many fall asleep. In this video, Finn, a geriatric cat with back and hip pain, receives an electroacupuncture treatment.
Percy, a middle-aged French Bulldog who suffers from chronic pain secondary to a previously fractured pelvis, relaxes during his electroacupuncture treatment.