My thoughts on acupressure / acupuncture and how it is used in western medicine.
Acupuncture has been practised for many thousands of years and on horses for 4000 years. Around 3000 years ago veterinary acupuncture was introduced as a separate branch of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Acupressure is pressure applied by fingers, hand, and elbows and based on acupuncture where acupuncture uses very thin steel or copper needles instead. Acupuncture uses points called acupoints to treat illness and to relieve physical and mental stress. Stimulating these points either with needles or pressure will bring about changes to energy balance and flow of the body.
Animals and humans live by the same laws of nature, seasonal shifts affect all of us. The Chinese see the importance of the natural cycle of days, seasons and life. People live longer and healthier when they embrace natural life cycles. For example in winter eat warm foods, retain body heat and keep energy levels low. Spring is the time to eat fresh foods, be more energetic and build strength. Summer is a high energy time and Autumn is about getting ready for winter. This is the way life has evolved before central heating or cosy barns. In view of this TCM has a different mindset than western medicine. For example, the first question is how well is this animal or person functioning within their environment. Day to day, season to season in their stage of life. TCM is holistic, it will treat each horse as a whole in its environment and as a unique individual. With a mind, body, and sole ethos. TCM is practised today as it been practised for many thousands of years where most illnesses are treated as a breakdown of the immune system where external pathogens can penetrate defences. However, the main focus of TCM is health, not illness making preventative medicine more important and believing in supporting the immune system with a naturally balanced lifestyle. Chi is the life force of an animal and the energy that flows through the body. When this force is working correctly everything is in harmony and the body is healthy. The Chinese have many different types of chi for different organs which describes different functions. The key is balance and balance is yin and yang in TCM. Yin and yang are the dynamic forces of chi when they are in balance everything is OK. For example, sunny days with the right amount of rainfall mean the crops grow nicely. Too much sun and they shrivel and die, too much rain and they rot in their fields, this is nature balance yin and jang. Yin is associated with cold, water and nutrition and yang is associated with fire, dry and hot and is consuming, but basically labels of opposite forces of nature. When your horse is full of zest and running around the paddock like a nutter, this is yang and when they are snoozing under a tree this is yin. This is obvious externally, but gets a little more difficult to assess internally, a good example would be a dehydrated horse being yang. Yin and yang are opposite like head and foot or female and male or old and young. So blood would be considered yin because it provides nutrition and circulation is yang because it's related to movement. Which to me makes it slightly confusing, but hey-ho I’m from a western style of upbringing. Therefore, for chi to flow harmoniously yin and yang have to be in balance. This is where it starts to get a little murky, acupressure is a preventative medicine and health and lifestyle equal longevity, so if you are healthy and eat and drink the right foods how does acupressure help? Not sure yet, but I’m sure I’ll get to the bottom of it. Yin and yang have five elements which represent the organs of the body and the seasons, Chinese have an extra season late summer which is represented by the earth. The theory of these 5 elements depict the interrelationship between organs of the body. Where Earth relates to the spleen and stomach, metal relates to lung and large intestine and the Autumn, Water is winter and relates to kidney and bladder, wood is spring and relates to liver and gallbladder obviously just liver in a horse, and finally fire is summer and related to the heart and small intestine. The Chinese will relate these elements to many things and use them to describe emotions, season, organs, climate and even smell. This method is basically shorthand description of health and used to find patterns of disharmony. Yin and yang and the 5 elements theories are central to understanding TCM and reflect the nature of everything that exists. Organs are known as Zang-Fu organs and the theory is Zang Xiang where Zang is the organ and Xiang is the reflection of the organ. Zang or yin organs are deep organs, heart, lungs ,liver, kidneys and spleen. Where Fu or yang organs are organs that transport substances such as food water and waste. The stomach, bladder, large and small intestine are Fu organs. The Zang-Fu and meridian theories are fundamental to eastern medicine and combined complete systems which maintain the body's homoeostasis. Zang organs are counterbalanced by an opposing Fu organ, for example, the lungs relate to the large intestine, each organ has a yin and yang but it is important to point out that everything in the body is related. The meridians are pathways which act as energy flows chi, information and blood carrying nutrients to each organ in an ordered flow around the body. These are extensions of that organ and this is how acupressure effects the body via these pathways. Acupressure points affect the organ function and in turn all the meridian network. Studies have shown that acupuncture stimulates the release of certain types of endorphins which are known to make you feel good, improve appetite and raise energy levels. However, it’s most famed for pain relief. Acupuncture works well on animals and is used for a variety of problems such as pain relief, digestive problems and immune conditions. However, it would not be my first point of call and I do not think TCM would use acupuncture for these issues and would use herbs first. Since we do not understand how it works there will be difficulty knowing when to use it. Well, there seems to be a fundamental question to me and that is does it block pain like a drug, or does it help to fix the underlying issue? It may instigate ours and our horse's body to start healing, but to me, it does not address the underlying problem. If it’s only the body out of whack too much yin or yang then yes, it may fix the imbalance acting like a reboot of a computer. So it will have its uses and the skill is understanding when to use it or when to complement it with other treatments and at the moment I have no idea in what situation I personally would recommend it. Pain relief maybe? but I would use devils claw or other herbs first. Dr Vonderwell uses acupuncture points to diagnose what is wrong with the horse and his skills are based on an understanding of the meridian network and experience of what points sensitivity are related to what problem or problems that are present. So using it as a diagnostic tool. Which is more in line with its traditional uses. However, often vets put vitamin B12 into the acupuncture point to aid healing because it manufactures and maintains red blood cells and metabolise proteins, fats and carbs. However, vitamin B12 is synthesised in the liver as long as there is cobalt in the diet, therefore it would point at a mineral deficiency if a horse needs it. This is one of my worries about our use of acupuncture, the Chinese use acupuncture as a preventative medicine and to me it looks like our vets use it for pain relief and to try and cure things. Acupressure will stimulate nutrients (yin) and circulation (yang) this will aid the healing process, these nutrients will have vitamin B12 if the liver is functioning correctly and the diet is good. By using vitamin B12 they are admitting the diet is wrong or could be wrong and therefore treating the symptoms and not the underlying cause. This would be fine if they tested and found that the horse was deficient in vitamin B12 and address that problem, but my gut tells me that they are just using vitamin B12 in acupuncture points to treat the symptoms. You will always get this issue with vets if they do not treat a horse holistically and misuse a treatment that supposed to be used as part of a holistic approach. It is a good idea to treat horses like Dr Earl C. Sutherland with both acupuncture and chiropractic adjustments for lameness, however, if you are treating lame horses in this way with horseshoes on you are more than likely treating the symptoms. It is also a great idea to use acupuncture points as a diagnostic tool, but again if the actual issues manifest in the environment i.e. diet, horseshoes, stabling, lack of movement and it is not used along with a holistic approach to treat the underlying cause then you will end up with a vets bill of vast proportions and a horse that constantly just repeats the same issues. If something works and is not understood even by the people that practice it, it does not mean that it’s quackery. It just means it’s not understood fully yet. For example, how someone could have an operation with no anaesthetic by just using acupuncture I do not understand. I would imagine that there is some sort of pain deferral or it stops sensory information being returned, or as claimed it nudges the hypothalamus to release painkilling hormones, therefore we do not feel the pain. However, this does not mean it’s a treatment, it just means it stops it from hurting! You will still feel the postoperative pain! Just like the horseshoe and drugs, acupuncture is good at covering up the underlying problem and this is the main reason I dislike the use of it in isolation and I think western medicine have adopted it because of these attributes. I’m not writing acupuncture off, it has its place in a holistic approach. It does not cause side effects like drugs, it does not cause the issues like the horseshoe and it also aids healing in several ways, I’m just pointing out as strongly as I can that western medicine is liable to misuse it as a tool to treat symptoms and not look for the cause.