Acupuncture for Treating Arthritis

Sheila Johnson, DVM   June 6, 2014   Comments Off on Acupuncture for Treating Arthritis

A dog in Eugene Oregon being treated for arthritis with acupuncture.Arthritis can affect any joint, but most dogs are affected in the legs or spine. Often the cause is just normal wear and tear that occurs over the years, leading to erosion of the cartilage. This results in bone rubbing directly on bone which causes pain and a decreased quality of life for the pet. This can occur earlier in life or be significantly worse in obese dogs. As the joint(s) become painful, the animal compensates by shifting weight to other limbs which creates compensatory issues that must be addressed in our attempts to control the pet’s pain.

Acupuncture is one of many methods that can be used to treat arthritis. The modern approach to acupuncture views it as form of stimulation of nerves and muscles through the insertion of fine needles into specific points on the body. Ideally, a standard medical diagnosis is made in a patient prior to starting acupuncture. This necessitates a review of previous medical history, a complete physical exam, and, often radiographs or other laboratory tests. This helps us to determine the extent of the patient’s musculoskeletal and neurologic issues as well as to identify any serious underlying disease that may need more definitive treatment.

A complete myofascial exam is performed on every acupuncture patient to identify trigger points which often result in significant discomfort to a patient. When active myofascial trigger points are identified in the muscles that act on a joint, they are also needled.

The affected joint is needled using not only the standard traditional stimulation points for the joint in question, but also local, tender points near the joint line. Needles are never inserted directly into the joint space. At this time or at future visits (depending on patient response), areas of referred and compensatory pain are also needled.

Through needling these points, we hope to affect blood and lymph flow at the local level to promote circulation and healing as well as causing the release of anti-pain and anti-inflammatory molecules from the brain stem and local tissues. In addition to treating the affected joint and any trigger points or compensatory areas, the nerves supplying the joint and supporting muscles may be treated at their spinal segment origin or at distal points along the nerve’s pathway. This can result in improved function of the nerve and resulting relaxation of the associated muscle and fascia.

It is important to recognize that we cannot expect complete relief in patients with serious joint damage, but by helping to control the pain and inflammation, acupuncture can often improve your beloved pet’s quality of life. In moderate to severe cases, acupuncture is best combined with other standard medical treatments and medications for multi-modal pain management.