Equine acupuncture provides comfort for horses


URBANA, Ill. — Dr. Kara Lascola, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, offers equine acupuncture to supplement conventional therapies and treatments given to her patients.

She says her goal for acupuncture therapy is primarily to increase the comfort of patients.

“I mainly use acupuncture to help manage chronic pain associated with musculoskeletal problems, such as back injuries, although it can also be used in management for other conditions such as laminitis or neuropathies,” she said.

Dr. Lascola is board certified in large animal internal medicine, and gained certification to perform acupuncture to expand options for her patients. She says there is evidence that acupuncture can be beneficial for managing pain in humans and veterinary species.

Augmenting other therapies. One recent patient — a horse with boney abnormalities along the top of his vertebrae, resulting in chronic back soreness — illustrates the success of acupuncture in augmenting other therapies.

“This horse was initially given corticosteroid injections and shockwave therapy, which resulted in some improvements,” said Dr. Lascola. “However, follow-up acupuncture treatments really seemed to make the difference. By the owner’s account, the horse is more comfortable, performs better under saddle, and has increased flexibility. After acupuncture, he no longer showed discomfort when we probed his back in the regions where he had previously shown pain.”

Patient needs

When Dr. Lascola first sees a patient, she conducts a thorough physical examination and takes a thorough history of the patient from the client. She then examines specific acupuncture pressure points and determines where acupuncture therapy should focus, taking into consideration the horse’s history and pain.

She selects her primary acupuncture points based on the areas of pain, while secondary points are identified to influence the underlying cause of the problem. For example, a patient’s back pain may be caused by local trauma or may be secondary to problems with the hocks.

Each patient’s treatment is tailored to its specific needs, depending on the nature of the injury and the condition of the individual horse. An acute laminitis case would have several treatments within days of each other, while horses with chronic back pain may have initial treatments spread out over one to two weeks, and continue treatments as progress is made.

“Regardless of the goal for the specific horse, it is important to make sure that each patient is relaxed and feels comfortable during the acupuncture procedure,” says Dr. Lascola.

Careful diagnosis

For many practitioners, acupuncture is used in conjunction with conventional treatment approaches. Like many adjunct therapies, the use of equine acupuncture is recommended based on the interest and satisfaction of the client and on the response of the patient to the therapy.

“Horse owners who are interested in trying equine acupuncture need to commit to at least a few sessions, as progress is normally seen only after a few treatments,” said Dr. Lascola.

Progress is often determined by client feedback: How does the horse behave or perform? How is its energy level? Does the horse seem more comfortable after each session?

While equine acupuncture has seen a rise in availability and acceptance as an adjunct therapy, Dr. Lascola cautions that a careful diagnosis of any underlying medical conditions and evaluation of all potential treatment options must occur before trying acupuncture.

Acupuncture treatment is offered to decrease pain and increase comfort for patients, in a way that is calming and not stressful.

For more information about the benefits of equine acupuncture, contact your local equine veterinarian, or the equine team at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital.


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