Acupuncture is a relatively simple treatment option veterinarians and horse owners consider for a variety of equine ailments, but little scientific evidence of its efficacy exists–particularly in regards to treating laminitis. Lisa Lancaster, MSc, PhD, DVM, of Lancaster Veterinary Services, in Denver, Colo., explored how this complementary therapy can be used as part of a multimodal approach to treating laminitis at the 6th International Equine Conference on Laminitis and Diseases of the Foot, held Oct. 28-31 in West Palm Beach, Fla.

When treating laminitis, veterinarians’ goals include reducing the horse’s pain and inflammation, unloading the most compromised structures in the foot, and treating the underlying cause of the disease. Acupuncture can be useful and help boost efficacy of traditional treatments, according to Lancaster, with its pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects and with its homeostatic (regulating) influences. The biggest asset this therapy offers for laminitis patients, however, is pain modulation.

"The needles send a message to the nervous system that can interrupt or reduce pain," Lancaster explained. Acupuncture research (performed largely on lab animals and humans) has shown that it does this by regulating the nervous system. Since the nervous system controls the entire body, she explained, acupuncture can have beneficial effects on the whole horse.

Acupuncture "dosing"–how many needles the practitioner uses, what size they are, how long they stay in, and where they are placed–is not an exact science. However, Lancaster noted that placing needles around the hoof and coron