Needles are often equated with pain and discomfort; however, for a horse named Gypsy the tiny sharp objects brought about much needed relief as Dr. Mark Crisman, a professor in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, administered acupuncture therapy.
Gypsy had an infection in her ankle and Crisman was using acupuncture -- along with traditional therapy -- to help strengthen her bones and immune system, and provide pain relief.
Acupuncture, which has its roots in eastern countries, is a technique of inserting and manipulating very fine needles into specific points on the body with the intention of relieving pain and other therapeutic purposes. This ancient practice has long been used among human patients and, over the past few decades, has gained popularity and recognition in veterinary medicine.
“Acupuncture has proven to be a safe and relatively painless treatment for a variety of illnesses in animals,” said Crisman who has been practicing the therapy for over a decade on equine patients and now teaches others who desire certification.
The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital offers this therapy to both large and small animals. Conditions that respond well to acupuncture range from skin disorders to musculoskeletal issues to neurological problems.
"While pain and osteoarthritis are common conditions we treat with acupuncture in small animals,” said Dr. Bess Pierce, an associate professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, who is leading the hospital’s community practice, “we certainly provide therapy for a multitude of problems."
Veterinarians who wish to practice acupuncture most undergo an additional training process. With the recent completion of her certification, Dr. Beverley Purswell, a professor in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, brings the total of certified veterinary acupuncturists in the college to four.
"Acupuncture certainly does not replace traditional veterinary medicine," said Purswell who plans to use the therapy in her work in theriogenology, the specialized field of veterinary medicine that focuses on reproduction. "It can, however, compliment the therapies we already use."
In addition to Crisman, Pierce, and Purswell, Dr. Scott Pleasant, associate professor in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, is also a certified acupuncturist.