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Ancient Therapy Helps Dogs with Disc Disease

Pet Column for the week of February 7, 2011

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Related site - Pain Management at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital

Dog getting acupuncture
Dr. Stuart Clark-Price administers an acupuncture treatment to a pug with hind leg paralysis.

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Andrea Lin
Information Specialist

Source - Dr. Stuart Clark-Price
In the quest to improve the health and quality of life for their patients, doctors - both human and veterinary - are always expanding their knowledge to include technological improvements. One new technique gaining momentum in veterinary medicine is acupuncture.

Wait a minute, you say. Acupuncture isn't new! It has been used in China for millennia. And shouldn't modern medicine be skeptical of acupuncture, with its seemingly magical needles that help patients get better?

Dr. Stuart Clark-Price, senior anesthesiologist at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, says he was a skeptic. Use of acupuncture in veterinary medicine is relatively new. But Dr. Clark-Price does keep an open mind, and while he certainly doesn't believe that it's magic, he says the results speak for themselves: acupuncture can help.

After receiving a fellowship to study veterinary acupuncture, Dr. Clark-Price now offers this technique to complement conventional approaches to pain management. Dogs with intervertebral disc disease leading to spinal nerve damage are ideal candidates for acupuncture therapy.

In disc disease, the disc between the vertebrae either ruptures or deforms, pushing on the spinal cord and causing nerve damage. This causes pain and the loss, to various degrees, of both motor function and feeling.

Fixing the disc requires orthopedic surgery. Post-surgical recovery requires patience, physical therapy, and other rehabilitation techniques. Acupuncture is one of the newer techniques added to the options at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

How does acupuncture help? The exact mechanism is debated, but we do know that it can improve function of damaged nerves. Most acupuncture points follow along nerve pathways. The needles are very thin and stimulate the nerve without causing pain. Essentially, the needles manipulate the electric current signaling of nerves.

For dogs recovering from intervertebral disc disease, the hope is that the nerves in the spinal cord are not too damaged and the signal can be re-connected. This is done by stimulating the areas that are cut-off in order to have the pathways re-connect. Acupuncture can complement efforts to stimulate and manipulate nerves.

Acupuncture is increasingly accepted in veterinary medicine. At the Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Illinois, it can be integrated into the pain management and rehabilitation therapies, and it is available for any patient whose owner is interested in this service. For more information, consult with your veterinarian or contact the Veterinary Teaching Hospital and ask to speak with Dr. Clark-Price.