Chronic pain usually develops slowly and is long lasting. Common sources of chronic pain include age-related disorders, such as arthritis, but can also be caused by illnesses like cancer, or bone disease. These types of pain are the hardest to deal with because it can persist for years, or even the rest of the animal’s life. The development of chronic pain is a slow progression that some animals learn to tolerate over time. This can make it difficult for the animal’s human to detect their increasing discomfort.
I’ve found the use of acupuncture highly effective in treating chronic pain. It releases the body’s own enkephalin and endogenous opioids, thus decreasing and sometimes even eliminating chronic pain altogether. This is as true for animals as it is for humans. Countless studies have shown increased blood levels of pain-relieving peptides following an acupuncture session. These peptides create a feeling similar to a “runner’s high” and in addition to controlling pain, there’s often a sense of euphoria after a visit. Animals receiving regular acupuncture from me quickly learn that they feel great afterwards. Many of them bound into my office looking forward to their treatment — quite unusual for a veterinary visit.
Pharmaceutical management of pain may be necessary at some point in an animal’s life, however, these drugs can often adversely affect the liver, kidneys and intestinal lining (causing ulcers). It’s not advisable to use them every day. Anti-inflammatory drugs are well known for causing these side effects, so it’s important to understand that not only do they create new damage, they aren’t actually healing anything. In fact, conventional drugs override the body’s natural protective mechanisms and can make matters worse. Acupuncture can help the body to heal, restore movement and release free radicals that can cause further edema.
There are different acupuncture techniques to manage pain. I use a traditional method and thus generally choose points near the pathology (affecting interneurons at the spinal cord level) and distal to the pathology (affecting the meridian blockage or opening up a blocked vessel). There are other points, like Bladder 60, on the outside of the hock joint, which helps control pain in general.
To say that acupuncture helps with joint pain and arthritis prevention and treatment is true, but it’s also important not to forget all the soft tissues related to that joint pain. Many times, tendons, ligaments and muscles cause just as much pain as the joints, but generally conventional medicine doesn’t have many non-surgical answers for soft tissue problems. Often the older patient is stiff due to the cold penetrating the meridians and blocking chi flow. Acupuncture controls blood flow to depleted tissues and helps the body move cellular debris away from the affected area. The result is often an older dog that becomes puppy-like again, or an older cat that can jump onto your lap again!
Recognizing Chronic Pain
Since our animals cannot speak to us about the pain they may be feeling, we must observe them for behaviors commonly seen in animals known to be experiencing pain.
- avoids being touched and may bite, snap or hiss when approached
- unusually quiet, listless, or unresponsive
- whines, whimpers or howls for no discernable reason (dogs)
- continually licks a particular part of body
- acts out of character, either aggressively or submissively
- flattens ears against head
- difficulty sleeping, restless
- poor appetite
- increased seeking of affection and attention