April 19, 2005
Reaching The Point Of Acceptance
In October 1985, North Carolina veterinarian William Martin signed up for a class offered by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. It consisted of a four-day course once a month for four months and a certification test at the end. The first part of the course covered the Chinese history and theory ofacupuncture, including yin and yang, the different meridians and alarm points, he explains. “This did not relate at all to veterinary medicine that I had learned in the Western world.” It was so foreign, in fact, that while traveling home after that first session, Martin decided he would drop out of the course. Upon his return, he learned that his 5-year-old Miniature Dachshund had been paralyzed for five days with an intervertebral disc problem. His associate had tried the typical Western treatment, but the dog’s condition had not improved. “I immediately thought I would really test the acupuncture stuff, so I called one of the teachers that I had met at the school,” Martin relates.
“Over the telephone we did some hands-on diagnostics. He told me where and how to insert regular hypodermic needles in acupuncture points.” Within four hours, the Dachshund was standing. Martin calls it his first miracle of acupuncture. “I immediately decided to continue with the course,” he says. Martin’s story is just one in a substantial collection of anecdotes attesting to acupuncture’s effectiveness and leading to the growing popularity of this ancient practice in the Western world. In the following we will consider the philosophies of traditional Chinese medicine, how and why many veterinarians now are using acupuncture, the illnesses commonly treated with the technique and the various scientific theories that attempt to explain it.
An Ancient Art
In the narrowest sense, acupuncture is the application of small-gauge needles to various points on the body for the purpose of eliciting physiological responses in the treatment of almost any disease or condition, and it seems especially useful for relieving pain. In a broader sense, acupuncture is an ancient procedure used in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of whole-body conditions. No one really knows when or where it started, but it has ancient roots. A primitive acupuncturelike therapy was practiced in India some 7,000 years ago, and Stone Age humans used fishbone needles in China 5,000 years ago.1 A large body of written information about the practice has survived the ages and grown with time.2 One of the earliest records of veterinary acupuncture was some 3,000 years ago in India for the treatment of elephants; however, the father of veterinary acupuncture is generally considered to be Shun Yang (480 B.C.) from China. The earliest American medical journal reference the authors could find to acupuncture’s use in human medicine was in 1836; however,European writers of the late 1600s had published on the subject earlier.3,4 Interestingly, Sir William Osler, who taught at Harvard and Yale and who gave the world its current residency system of medical education, wrote of acupuncture in 1892.5 The procedure did not make it into the New England Journal of Medicine until 1926, but these references were positive,
Indicating that acupuncture could be an appropriate and useful medical technique. The procedure had been used for a variety of illnesses, but it began to fall into obscurity in the 1940s in the United States as people turned to newly emerging, potent, increasingly ailment-specific antibiotics to treat their health problems. In 1973, The American Medical Association Council of Scientific Affairs declared acupuncture an experimental medical procedure. The increased interest was due in no small part to Richard Nixon’s efforts to improve relations with China, where acupuncture was and still is a common practice.
In fact, a member of Nixon’s press corps accompanied him to China on a visit and had surgery using acupuncture as an anesthesia, which later was widely reported in the press. By 1983, the American Osteopathic Association endorsed the use of acupuncture as a part of medical practice. Although acupuncture terminology still is largely based on philosophy, it has become apparent that the scientific method has crept into the practice with the result that the Western veterinary and medical establishments are less able to discount acupuncture as a pastime of shamans. Along with acupuncture’s increased use in human medicine, veterinary acupuncture has moved closer to mainstream practices. It also might be said that the mainstream has moved closer to acupuncture, given that chapters on acupuncture now are standard in many major veterinary texts. In addition, acupuncture has become a big business worldwide. Today nearly 3 million veterinary and medical practitioners, assistants and pharmacists are trained in acupuncture. The IVAS has become the primary professional society for veterinary acupuncturists in the United States, complete with a newsletter, a journal and a World Wide Web site (see the sidebar).
Reaching The Point Of Acceptance: