The Neurophysiologic Basis of Acupuncture
Western medicine (including veterinary science) focuses on the diagnosis of the disease underlying a patient's complaint. Specific treatments include medication and/or surgery. Veterinary acupuncture concentrates on evidence of abnormal changes in homeostasis that underlie the presenting symptoms of the organ(s) involved. Diagnosis is made according to Traditional Chinese Medicine principles. Treatment consists of selection and stimulation of specific acupuncture points. This treatment may be localized but often is generalized to the whole body and may then improve other concurrent conditions. It is perhaps the most widely practiced complementary medicine amongst veterinarians worldwide.
In clinical practice, veterinary acupuncture is utilized for its diagnostic, therapeutic and hypoalgesic properties. Hypersensitivity at particular points involved in cutaneo-somatovisceral reflexes can be used as a diagnostic aid in conjunction with diagnostic approaches routinely used in western veterinary medicine. Therapeutic uses of acupuncture include almost all chronic cases that are poorly or non responsive to conventional medicine or where the risks of conventional medicine out weigh the benefits. It is also suitable as a first line therapy for many conditions.
A vast amount of knowledge is needed before acupuncture can be practiced satisfactorily, except for a few selected treatments. It is suitable for certain aspects of first aid and emergency use. It can be regarded as a self regulating system of medicine. The neuroendocrine responses activated by the needle are the very ones the body uses to regulate its own physiological processes. As well as the neurophysiological effects, acupuncture also has inflammatory, immune modulating and circulatory effects, not all of which are understood. These acupuncture points have specific histological neurovascular characteristics, with 95% occurring within 1.0 cm of a nerve trunk or nerve branch, and nearly always near blood vessels.
Scientific advances in understanding the mechanisms underlying the effectiveness of acupuncture are increasing. Despite limited number of published research on veterinary acupuncture, Murdoch University WA is one of the first universities to undertake a clinical position to offer acupuncture at the veterinary school and to explore research opportunities. The Australian Veterinary Acupuncture Group acknowledges this pioneering move to integrate this valuable tool into veterinary science and looks forward to further advances.