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October 9, 2013

Various acupuncture treatment modalities for horses

by DePaolo Equine Concepts

There are some very import steps to insure that your horse’s acupuncture treatment is conducted by someone who is qualified.  The veterinarian should first ask for a history of the horse. This is then followed by a physical examination, where the acupuncture meridians will be evaluated for sensitivity or blockages. Palpating meridians and points will locate problem areas without having to ride the horse or perform a lameness evaluation. Based on the findings, the best treatment modality will be applied to relieve the condition.

There are several ways to stimulate acupuncture points including:

  • dry needles
  • aquapuncture
  • hemo-acupuncture
  • moxabustion
  • electroacupuncture
  • cold laser

When performed properly, horses relax during all of these procedures. Licking, chewing, yawning, and napping are all signs of pain relief and endorphin release. The number and frequency of treatments will depend on what the disorder is and whether it is an acute or chronic issue.

Let’s walk through each of the acupuncture approaches and when is a good time to bring them in as part of your treatment protocol.

Dry needle 2Dry Needles

Very thin, solid needles are inserted into strategic acupuncture points for treatment. Points that have not palpated as painful and have reduced energy need to be tonified. These needles will be left untouched for a short period of time, usually 5-10 minutes.

Points that are sensitive and have excess energy need to be sedated. Those needles will be left in place for a longer period of time, up to 30 minutes. They are often manipulated multiple times during treatment to increase stimulatory effect.

Dry Needle therapy is often used with cases of laminitis, navicular, arthritis, tendon/ligament issues, facial nerve paralysis, eye injuries, skin irritation, GI issues, and inflammation. This therapy is often combined with the other modalities listed next.


A hypodermic needle is used to inject a liquid, most commonly Vitamin B12, into the acupuncture point. Vitamin B12 is very beneficial in the treatment of trigger points in performance horses. The injection will immediately help relieve pain, as well as encourage the body flush lactic acid out of the area. The most common areas of the body treated with this method are the pectorals, shoulders, backs and hips.

Treatment time depends on the amount of points to be injected, but typically does not take longer than 5-10 minutes.

Aquapuncture therapy is most often used to treat trigger points, body soreness, back pain, Rhino, immune compromise, decreased appetite and lack of energy.


A hypodermic needle is used to inject chosen acupuncture points with the patient’s own blood. The first step is to draw blood from the jugular vein, followed by injecting the blood into other parts of the body for treatment. This method is used whenever immune stimulation is necessary.

Again, treatment time depends on the amount of places to be injected, but typically does not take longer than 5-10 minutes.

Hemo-acupuncture therapy is used for treatment of neurologic syndromes (EPM, EHV-1, West Nile), lyme disease, vaccinosis and weakened immune system.


A long, dry needle with a metal handle is inserted into the point to be treated. Then a small bundle of herb is placed on the handle portion of the needle. That herb is then lit on fire in order to heat the needle, creating a greater healing effect. Heat is used when trying to achieve yin/yang balance in the body.

The needles are left in place until the herb has burned and disintegrated, leaving the needle cool enough to the touch to remove. This takes about 20 minutes.

Moxibustion therapy is commonly used for hormone imbalances (reproductive issues), endocrine disorders (Cushings, Insulin Resistance), calming, sore backs and sacroiliac pain.


A long, dry needle is inserted and then a small alligator clip with an insulated wire is attached just below the handle portion of the needle. The wires lead back to a device that delivers mild electrical pulses through the needles in order to create muscle contraction and nerve stimulation.  Treatment takes approximately 30-60 minutes.

This approach is used when treating sore backs, arthritis of the spine, inflammation, body soreness and muscle atrophy due to injury or neurologic disorders.

Cold Laser

A visible red or infrared LED laser is used when a horse is uncomfortable with needle insertion or has an allergic reaction to needles coated with silicone. A painless beam of light is held over each acupuncture point being treated for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

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