Acupuncture is the insertion of fine needles into specific points in the body in order to stimulate healing. Additionally, these areas can be stimulated by moxibustion (the burning of Artemisia plant leaves on or near the skin), pressure, heat, and lasers. These points have been carefully mapped over the ages to correspond to certain conditions and body organs. It has long been used in animals as well. Many of the acupuncture points used in humans correspond to the same location on an animal's body. Some points have been moved over the years based on the differences in how animals walk (four legs instead of two) and the fact that they do not use the thumb (dewclaw) as humans do. It is used to treat illness and pain as well as to improve overall health and quality of life. It is part of a system of medicine called Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM encompasses acupuncture, Chinese herbals, Chinese food therapy, and a form of massage called Tui-na. There are practitioners who practice TCM or a specific branch of it, and there are practitioners who combine TCM with Western medicine to have an integrated approach.

According to TCM, the body has energy called Qi (pronounced chee) that flows through channels in the body called meridians. Imbalances or blockages in the flow of Qi cause illness and pain. Acupuncture needles stimulate the flow of Qi to restore balance.

Western science has different explanations to explain why acupuncture works. Acupuncture points are placed in positions where they exert influence over the vascular (blood) system, lymphatic system, and the nervous system. Insertion of needles stimulates the brain to release endorphins, a body chemical that relieves pain. The response can be at the actual point, or at a site distant to the point.

Acupuncture can also stimulate the release of hormones. It is documented that acupuncture can mediate the release of neurotransmitters and neurohormones that can change the regulation of blood flow. It has been shown to enhance immune function by increasing numbers of the body's defense cells. To summarize, the effects of acupuncture involve interactions between the nervous system, the endocrine system, and the immune system.

There is a lot of published scientific research on acupuncture; unfortunately it is mostly in Chinese and has not been translated. Research and clinical trials published in English are mounting to show not only how acupuncture works, but also the positive results achieved by using acupuncture to treat a variety of conditions.


In 1997, the National Institutes of Health published a consensus statement on acupuncture. The NIH summarized that although there has not yet been significant research to prove efficacy, acupuncture has been shown clinically to help many conditions and is safer than some of the medications and procedures traditionally used. According to the NIH, acupuncture may be a "reasonable" treatment for postoperative pain, myofascial pain, low back pain, addiction, stroke rehabilitation, carpal tunnel syndrome, osteoarthritis, and headache.

In 2002, The World Health Organization published a report titled Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials. In this report, acupuncture was cited as being an effective treatment for the following conditions: nausea and vomiting, knee pain, low back pain, neck pain, allergic rhinitis, headache, and neurological issues such as those brought on by a stroke.


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