Let’s meet Scout. She’s a sweet, 14-year-old Beagle, who started limping on her left front leg about a year ago. Sometimes her pain was so bad she would not even bear weight on the leg at all. Her owner, Cara brought her in and a physical exam revealed both shoulder and elbow pain. She tried a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) and a Glucosamine and Chondroitin supplement, which both seemed to help at first, but sadly her pain continued to worsen this past spring. Radiographs revealed degenerative joint changes in her left elbow joint, basically meaning her cartilage was breaking down and allowing her bones to remodel and rub together. Talk about painful! It’s not clear what caused this process to begin, but our doctors were concerned that Scout was a bit overweight, which wasn’t helping her situation. Extra weight causes extra stress on joints and limited Scout’s ability to exercise causing a vicious cycle even with very controlled food portions. As Scout’s meals became even smaller at home and since Scout wasn’t responding well to pain medications, we suggested she try acupuncture.
Dr. Allison Mhoon started treating patients with acupuncture at our Care First Animal Hospital in 2008. She studied with the Chi Institute of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine and is certified in small animal acupuncture. Dr. Mhoon met Scout in mid-June 2011 for an evaluation and first acupuncture treatment. During this first meeting, she performed a full exam on Scout and specifically looked for painful points along nerve pathways, called “trigger points,” and areas of inflammation. With these findings and an in-depth history, Dr. Mhoon felt Scout would respond well to acupuncture therapy and recommended she begin with 3 sessions. Scout had her first session that day.
By Scout’s second session in late June, she was showing hardly any lameness and Cara said she was acting much spunkier too! She was able to go almost 3 weeks limp-free between the second and third sessions. Just before her third session, she began to limp again. This was a good sign, though, she was responding to the acupuncture, and her owner could tell when it wore off. Scout will return for acupuncture therapy as needed. So far she is doing great and is minimizing her use of the anti-inflammatory! Our goals with acupuncture therapy are to eventually wean her off daily NSAIDs in order to minimize undesirable side effects and to space out the acupuncture sessions to every 1-4 months as needed. In talking with Cara regarding Scout’s experience she said: “I am not looking for a miracle with acupuncture treatment for Scout. I just want my four-legged daughter to be as comfortable and happy as possible in her later years. However, I continue to be astounded at her increased spirit and wellbeing through this course of action. I would highly recommend acupuncture as an alternative avenue to explore with your veterinarian.”
So how does acupuncture work? Basically, the end product resembles the actions of medications commonly prescribed for arthritis, pain relief, allergies, etc. The big difference being the body is doing the healing itself. To expand a bit more – tiny acupuncture needles stimulate specific points in the body where there are congregated immune cells, blood vessels, and nerve receptors (called “acupoints”). Once stimulated, a cascade of reactions occurs. Blood flow increases, nourishing tissue and recruiting healing immune cells. Sensory nerves help to dull throbbing pain (similar to rubbing a banged knee to dull the ache). Pain is also relieved by a big release of endorphins, enkaphalins, and serotonin. The brain also sends out numerous signals to help harmonize the hormone systems and metabolism. So, acupuncture is just a different approach allowing the body to heal itself.
To learn more about acupuncture, please visit our website for an interview with Dr. Mhoon. Other success stories and a video covering common questions about acupuncture can be seen in our YouTube videos. Dr. Mhoon is also available by email for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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