Reaching The Point Of Acceptance: Take an Eastern Perspective

To understand the basics of acupuncture it is important to comprehend the tradition out of which it developed. Animals and humans are viewed in traditional Chinese medicine as tiny parts of an infinite universe, subject to laws that govern all living and nonliving things. The fundamental concept is that an animal or person who follows these general laws of nature will reap the benefits of good health. Acupuncture is not a stand-alone procedure in this framework; rather, it is a part of a much larger medical system encompassing acupuncture, moxibustion (the burning of moxa, a soft downy material, on the skin in the treatment of various disorders), massage, breathing exercises, nutrition, herbal medicine and even philosophy of life. Traditional Chinese medicine’s goal is to diagnose life force (Qi) imbalances, determine their causes (etiology of the disease) and subsequently remove those causes from the patient’s environment (treatment). Traditional Chinese medicine views disease as an imbalance between Qi’s two polarities, yin (-) and yang (+). Within this conceptual framework, acupuncture is used to “communicate” with body organs and tissues through special channels or meridians. (There is no known physiological equivalent to these energy pathways.) Health and healing in this context is the integration and restoration of balance or harmony. This view has been validated most recently by the discovery of the relationship between brain chemistry and the immune system. The effectiveness of many traditional acupuncture points has been determined experimentally Comparing an acupuncturist with a Western veterinary or medical practitioner is similar to comparing a gardener and a mechanic. The gardener considers the totality of his or her plants’ environment (sunlight, density of planting, types and amounts of fertilizer, temperature, water, etc.),whereas the mechanic searches to replace or repair a dysfunctional component.

Theories In Practice

To illustrate the differences between the Eastern and Western philosophies as they relate to veterinary medicine, let us follow a hypothetical canine patient while she is being examined by a Western-trained clinician and compare this to the procedures used by a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine. An owner makes an appointment because her previously housetrained female dog recently has started having accidents in the house, and she wants to rule out a medical basis for the problem before she addresses it as a behavioral issue. Both practitioners would be presented with the same symptoms, but how they arrive at their diagnoses would be completely different. At the traditional vet’s office, the dog is placed on the examining table, and the doctor asks questions about the frequency and quantity of urination.

While the owner is talking, the vet takes the dog’s temperature, and then begins to perform a physical exam that includes listening to the heart and bowel sounds and palpating the abdomen to check for any masses. The vet suggests several lab tests to rule out a urinary tract infection and other more serious diseases such as diabetes mellitus and diabetes insipidus. The total focus of the appointment is to address the clinical symptoms. How would this differ from a visit to a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine? First, the doctor asks questions about the dog’s behavior and previous history, which may be similar to the questions the traditional vet asked, such as: “Does the dog drink small or large amounts of water at one time?” “When did the behavior start to occur?” and “How often does it happen?” The practitioner then goes on to ask what may seem to be unrelated questions. Does it happen more frequently at a particular time of the day? Does your pet choose to sleep in the sun, or does she seek out a cool, shady spot? Does she like to lie on a soft surface, or does she prefer to sleep on a firm supportive surface? By now the owner may become impatient with answering detailed questions that do not appear to have anything to do with the problem. But to a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, these questions are all valid because the patient is not simply a weak bladder but an individual made up of physical, mental and emotional aspects. Questions are asked about the dog’s environment, her diet and favorite foods, stressors and behavioral tendencies in an attempt to consider the “whole,” just as the gardner considers the totality of his or her environment. While the owner is relating this information, the traditional Chinese medicine practitioner observes the animal’s behavior in the exam room, checks her tongue, looks at the dog’s body shape and examines her skin and coat. The next part of the exam includes listening to the chest with a stethoscope and taking note of the breathing sounds and the character of her bark. Just like the Western clinician, the traditional Chinese medicine practitioner then palpates the abdomen and limbs. In addition he or she will check the dog’s pulse (which provides information about organ systems and their locations on energy pathways) and also will assess specific areas along the back, sides and abdomen. In this tradition these diagnostic points correspond to specific internal organs. Finally, the traditional Chinese medicine practitioner smells for specific odors emanating from the eyes, nose, ears and mouth, which all play a part in the diagnostic process.

The Acupuncture Procedure

The lab tests suggested by the traditional Western vet rule out the serious diseases associated with urinary incontinence, and the diagnosis indicates estrogen-responsive atrophy of the bladder’s wall muscle. The allopathic vet probably will prescribe estrogen replacement therapy or phenylpropanolamine. The difference between the allopathic system of treatment and the system of traditional Chinese medicine boils down to this: In Western medicine, the same disease or condition normally is treated the same way in all patients; in traditional Chinese medicine, the same condition may and most probably will be treated differently in different patients because the underlying cause is another type of imbalance. In traditional Chinese medicine, frequent urination or incontinence usually stems from a weakness in the kidney yang, which can cause an overall deficiency in the Qi. Incontinence is also a function of the Qi associated with the spleen, because it is believed the spleen keeps organs functioning properly and can be stimulated to treat herniations, prolapses, etc. Treatment most likely would consist of using needles to elicit a physiological response by stimulating specific anatomic loci, in this case, along the bladder, kidney and spleen meridians. The size of the animal and the location of the points being treated determine the length of the needles used. A short needle, about 1/2-inch, is used in points located over bony areas such as the head or face. The most common size used is about 1 inch long. For larger dogs or for deeper penetration, there are longer needles available (11/2 inches to 2 inches). The needles are solid and very flexible, and presterilized disposable ones are an option. In the hands of a properly trained clinician, the animal does not appear to have any discomfort at all. Inserting the needles to the proper depth and angle, manipulating them during the treatment and removing them all are techniques that can be achieved only through training and extensive practice. This is why it is so important to consult a properly certified veterinary acupuncturist. In the general treatment of ailments, it may take four to eight sessions to know if acupuncture therapy will be effective, although a response could be seen even after the first treatment. Treatments may last from 10 seconds to 30 minutes and may be recommended once or twice weekly. The long-term goal always is to fix the number of treatments to the minimum required for effectiveness-this may be every six months for arthritis or could be as often as every two months for other conditions. Both frequency and duration of treatment depend on the animal and the ailment.

Reaching The Point Of Acceptance:

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