Introduction to Equine Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Acupuncture is part of the traditional Chinese medical system. This system includes acupuncture, massage, nutrition, herbal medicine, breathing exercises, and moxibustion (heating specific points on the body). The history of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) stretches back to at least 1300 BCE and is based on thousands of years of observation of the natural world. Shun Yang, the first recorded practitioner of veterinary traditional Chinese medicine, lived around 480 BCE. According to TCM, the body is highly integrated and to achieve a state of health, one must be balanced internally with the self as well as externally with the environment. Both internal factors, such as emotions, and external factors, such as changes in weather, can cause imbalance.

The goal of acupuncture is to aid the body in moving towards a balanced, healthy state. Thin needles are inserted at specific nodes along the body. These nodes, called acupuncture points, are related to underlying anatomic structures, such as nerves, blood vessels, and lymphatics.  Insertion of the needles at acupuncture points leads to a wide-spread release of endorphins, causing relaxation and pain relief. There are also local effects at the needle insertion site, including an anti-inflammatory response and normalization of blood flow. Acupuncture produces a powerful physiologic healing response throughout the body and works through many complex mechanisms that the scientific community is still working to fully understand.

Why use acupuncture for your horse?

The uses of equine acupuncture are many, but the most common reason for seeking treatment is musculoskeletal imbalance. Acupuncture is an excellent modality for addressing subtle lameness, back soreness, and decreased performance. Because acupuncture targets the nervous system, it is useful for a wide array of other issues, including gastrointestinal disorders, hormonal and metabolic disease, neurologic issues, heaves, and behavioral problems. Many horses benefit from yearly acupuncture to maintain health and performance.

What is an acupuncture treatment like and how many will your horse need?

A session starts with a comprehensive exam of your horse. Dr. Cissell combines traditional Chinese medicine with her conventional veterinary knowledge to evaluate the horse’s physiologic systems and musculoskeletal balance. She chooses acupuncture points based on the exam and the horse’s history, using very thin, flexible needles. Once the needles are inserted, many horses relax and become very sleepy. The needles are left in for about 15 to 20 minutes.  Follow-up sessions are recommended based on the severity of the horse’s issues. Generally, for long-standing, chronic issues, Dr. Cissell recommends an initial series of 4-6 treatments over the course of 2 months. Some horses will recover with just one treatment; others will require a few more.

acupuncture treatment
Acupuncture needles in action.

acupuncture treatment
Placement of acupuncture needles.


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Dr. Katie Cissell applying acupuncture treatment

Dr. Katie Cissell.


equine patient

Patient enjoying acupuncture treatment.