Acupuncture involves the insertion of a needle through the skin at predetermined sites (acupuncture points) for the treatment or prevention of disease. Besides the use of solid, typically stainless steel needles, other means of stimulating the acupuncture points can be used such as the injection of a liquid into the point (Aquapuncture) or by attaching electrodes (Electroacupuncture). The effects of acupuncture therapy cannot simply be explained in terms of a single mechanism, but rather as a series of interactions between the nervous system, the endocrine system, and the immune system. Acupuncture needling causes “micro trauma” that in turn causes a local inflammatory effect. This inflammatory effect results in an increased local tissue immune response, improved local tissue blood flow, and muscle and tissue relaxation. Some acupuncture points are known as “trigger points”. These are tender areas found in skeletal muscle that are often associated with a tight band or knot in the muscle. Trigger points can be where the nerve ends in a muscle and causes the muscle to contract. In addition to using acupuncture points for treatment purposes, reactivity of acupuncture points could aid in making a further diagnosis. When palpated, these points might show if there is a problem at that point or a problem with the acupuncture meridian or pathway that is associated with the point.
Pain is the common symptom a horse exhibits to suggest acupuncture and/or chiropractic treatment may be beneficial. Reactivity of acupuncture points and trigger points can be sign of a local issue or be a sign of a referred problem. When palpating acupuncture points, the veterinarian is looking for any signs of reactivity or abnormal findings (sensitivity, hot, cold, firm, soft). After this examination, the veterinarian assess which points were reactive and determines their relationship to meridians, organs, regions or areas of the body (foot/lower limb, head/neck, etc.), certain aspects of the body (from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective) or local anatomy.