Columns typically begin by describing how an animal benefited by acupuncture when drugs and surgery failed. The piece then proceeds to discuss acupuncture's growth within the profession and a list of responsive conditions. ABC-TV's “Nightline” produced a similar story this year, as well.3
Publicity for acupuncture is a good thing. It causes consumers to consider trying a safe and relatively non-invasive intervention that they might otherwise have overlooked. In the past, veterinary acupuncturists who believed in invisible “Qi” or energy would confess that they could not adequately explain acupuncture's effects.
Nowadays, fortunately, more integrative practitioners are describing the neural influences of needling, perhaps because they themselves hungered for a legitimate explanation.
In the past, when these “Qi-ists” would espouse unfounded notions about needles unblocking stuck energy, it seemed reasonable and warranted for authors to invite a skeptic or “quackbuster” to call out the pseudoscience. Because more veterinary acupuncturists have accepted contemporary biomedical explanations, the token naysayers seem out of touch and behind the times as they dutifully disavow the neurophysiology of needling.
For example, one high-profile skeptic contended, “There's actually no logical reason to believe that sticking needles into any human or animal can have the slightest influence on any disease…”4 This startlingly uninformed statement reveals much about the skeptic's denial or ignorance of somatic afferent stimulation physiology, i.e., one of the main mechanisms of acupuncture.
Another prolific critic of “animal acupuncture” cautioned,5 “[W]hen you read the next article extolling the virtues of the practice, keep in mind that you're reading a level of journalism commensurate with what's seen on the entertainment pages, information that has essentially nothing to do with good science.”6 Featured in the recent ABC “Nightline” segment, this individual quipped, “Another half-truth is that there is no such thing as an acupuncture point. Nobody has ever been able to demonstrate that there is such a thing” anatomically.7
Veterinary medical acupuncturists would vehemently disagree.
“Good science” reveals, in fact, an enormous amount about the anatomy of acupuncture points.8 The dots and lines on acupuncture models merely indicate, respectively, neural loci and neurovascular routes through which acupuncture engenders reproducible physiologic alterations. Translating the well-described anatomy of human points onto nonhuman structures opens doors to comparative research and One Health advances.9,10 Obviously, acupuncture points do not contain anything strange, discrete or unknown.
The number of studies attesting to the value of acupuncture has grown to the point that a large number of systematic reviews have become available. Systematic reviews constitute some of the highest levels of evidence in medicine. The variety of conditions and patient populations studied in the list below speaks to the robust and diverse effects that result from neuromodulation stimulated by acupuncture.
Acute Ischemic Stroke
Improves neurologic score and clinical outcome over conventional approach.11
Burning Mouth Syndrome
Reduces sensation of burning in the oral cavity.13
Increases smoking cessation rate and reduces cigarettes smoked each day.14
Postoperative Nausea and Vomiting
Both invasive and non-invasive acupuncture point stimulation prevent post-operative nausea and vomiting with minimal side effects.15
Shoulder Pain after Stroke
Treats pain in the shoulder after stroke when combined with exercise.18
Pelvic Organ Dysfunction
Improves symptoms, lessens pain and bolsters quality of life by means of percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation.22
Pregnancy Rates in Women Following In-Vitro Fertilization
Increases clinical pregnancy rate and live birth rate.23
Both acupressure and acupuncture lessened the intensity of pain; acupuncture reduced analgesic drug intake.24
Reduces pain in the short term with non-invasive point stimulation.25
In veterinary medicine, several studies have shown benefits from acupuncture for control of postoperative analgesia in dogs33,34 and improvement of neurologic function and analgesia following spinal cord injury from intervertebral disk disease, whether or not dogs undergo surgery.35-39 Acupuncture also aids in reducing recurrent otitis.40
It is not difficult to find the facts on acupuncture. Reporters, please continue to write about veterinary acupuncture and alert the public to this effective method of healing animals. Talk to a science-based veterinary medical acupuncturist who can explain the mechanisms clearly and without a drop of pseudoscience. To read about the history of acupuncture, click here.
And skip the skeptic next time.
He's no longer needed.
Dr. Robinson, DVM, DO, Dipl. ABMA, FAAMA, oversees complementary veterinary education at Colorado State University.
1. Wax E. Pet acupuncture more popular as practice becomes more mainstream. Washington Post. Style. May 22, 2012. Accessed at /redirect.aspx?location=http%3a%2f%2farticles.washingtonpost.com%2f2012-05-22%2flifestyle%2f35457817_1_veterinary-acupuncture-pet-acupuncture-practice-acupuncture on 02-19-13.
2. Cimons M. Many veterinarians offer acupuncture, which the Chinese have long used for animals. Washington Post. Health & Science. February 11, 2013. Accessed at /redirect.aspx?location=http%3a%2f%2fwww.washingtonpost.com%2fnational%2fhealth-science%2fmany-veterinarians-offer-acupuncture-which-the-chinese-have-long-used-for-animals%2f2013%2f02%2f08%2ffc8ac79e-64ce-11e2-b84d-21c7b65985ee_story.html on 02-19-13.
3. Chang J and Arsenault C.. Pet acupuncture: treating animals with human therapies. ABC Nightline. February 7, 2013. Dr. David Ramey talking to the reporter. Accessed at /redirect.aspx?location=http%3a%2f%2fabcnews.go.com%2fHealth%2fpet-acupuncture-treating-animals-best-human-medicine%2fstory%3fid%3d18434112 on 02-18-13.
4. Wax E. Pet acupuncture more popular as practice becomes more mainstream. Washington Post. Style. May 22, 2012. Accessed at /redirect.aspx?location=http%3a%2f%2farticles.washingtonpost.com%2f2012-05-22%2flifestyle%2f35457817_1_veterinary-acupuncture-pet-acupuncture-practice-acupuncture on 02-19-13.
5. Ramey DW. Do acupuncture points and meridians actually exist? Compend Contin Educ Pract Vet. 2000;22(12):1132-1136. Accessed at /redirect.aspx?location=http%3a%2f%2fsram.org%2fmedia%2fdocuments%2fuploads%2farticle_pdfs%2f5-3-03-Ramey.pdf on 02-18-13.
6. Ramey D. Animal acupuncture. Science-Based Medicine. Accessed at /redirect.aspx?location=http%3a%2f%2fwww.sciencebasedmedicine.org%2findex.php%2fanimal-acupuncture%2f on 02-18-13.
7. Chang J and Arsenault C.. Pet acupuncture: treating animals with human therapies. ABC Nightline. February 7, 2013. Dr. David Ramey talking to the reporter. Accessed at /redirect.aspx?location=http%3a%2f%2fabcnews.go.com%2fHealth%2fpet-acupuncture-treating-animals-best-human-medicine%2fstory%3fid%3d18434112 on 02-18-13.
11. Wang Y, Shen J, Wang WM, et al. Scalp acupuncture for acute ischemic stroke: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012; 2012:480950. doi: 10.1155/2012/480950.
12. Lee C, Crawford C, Wallerstedt D, et al. The effectiveness of acupuncture research across components of the trauma spectrum response (tsr): a systematic review of reviews. Systematic Reviews. 2012;1:46. doi: 10.1186/2046-4053-1-46.
19. Furlan AD, Yazdi F, Tsertsvadze A, Gross A, Van Tulder M, Santaguida L, et al. A systematic review and meta-analysis of efficacy, cost-effectiveness, and safety of selected complementary and alternative medicine for neck and low-back pain. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2012;2012:953139.
22. Biemans JMAE and van Balken MR. Efficacy and effectiveness of percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation in the treatment of pelvic organ disorders: a systematic review. Neuromodulation. 2013;16:25-34.
23. Zheng CH, Huang GY, Zhang MM, et al. Effects of acupuncture on pregnancy rates in women undergoing in vitro fertilization: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Fertil Steril. 2012;97(3):599-611.
25. Chung YC, Chen HH, and Yeh ML. Acupoint stimulation intervention for people with primary dysmenorrhea: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. Complement Ther Med. 2012;20(5):353-363.
36. Joaquim JG, Luna SP, Brondani JT, et al. Comparison of decompressive surgery, electroacupuncture, and decompressive surgery followed by electroacupuncture for the treatment of dogs with intervertebral disk disease with long-standing severe neurologic deficits. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2010; 236(11):1225-1229.
37. Laim A, Jaggy A, Forterre F, et al. Effects of adjunct electroacupuncture on severity of postoperative pain in dogs undergoing hemilaminectomy because of acute thoracolumbar intervertebral disk disease. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2009;234(9):1141-1146.