What is Intervertebral Disc Disease?
Your dog’s spine is made up of a number of bones called vertebrae. They extend from the base of the skull to the tip of the tail. Separating each vertebrae are flexible cushions called intervertebral discs. These discs help the spine to be able to move and bend in many directions. Each vertebrae has a small tunnel running through it which holds the spinal cord. The spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Because of the anatomy of the spine, the cord passes over each vertebrae and also over the intervertebral discs as it runs down the length of the back.
Due to trauma or age a disc can become weakened and rupture, or herniate, putting pressure on the spinal cord. This interrupts nerve transmission along the spinal cord and can cause varying effects on a dog’s body. Most frequently it causes pain, weakness and loss of sensation to the legs. It can also cause paralysis and urinary dysfunction if the herniation is severe. Usually this occurs in the rear legs, if the disc herniation is along the back. If the herniation is in the neck then all four legs can be affected.
Mild disc herniations are typically managed with pain medication or steroids, muscle relaxants and strict rest. More severe herniations causing paralysis are managed with surgery of the back in order to decompress the disc.
Acupuncture For Disc Disease
Several exciting studies have recently been performed showing that the addition of electroacupuncture can be extremely effective in helping animals with disc herniation make a better recovery. It can also be very helpful for dogs who would benefit from surgery but who are unable to undergo anesthesia, or whose owner may not be able to afford it.
Electroacupuncture involves inserting tiny acupuncture needles into various locations along the back and legs and connecting pairs of these needles to a mild electric current for varying amounts of time. This procedure is not painful and in fact releases several endorphins in the brain which relieve pain and promote relaxation.
A 2007 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association compared dogs with disc disease who received standard western medical therapy alone to dogs who also received electroacupuncture. Dogs in the group receiving electroacupuncture recovered the ability to walk sooner than the dogs that did not receive acupuncture!1A 2010 study published in the same journal looked at dogs with disc disease that needed surgery. This study showed that electroacupuncture alone was just as effective as surgery in recovering the ability to walk again.2
In my opinion electroacupuncture IN ADDITION to western medical treatments (pain medication/steroids, rest, muscle relaxants) should be the gold standard of care in treating this condition. Recovery to function will be much faster for your dog. And if your dog would benefit from surgery but is unable to undergo anesthesia due to other health issues or you simply cannot afford it then acupuncture is a wonderful option for your dog!
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1 Hayashi, A.M., Matera J.M., Pinto, A.C. “Evaluation of electroacupuncture treatment for thoracolumbar intervertebral disk disease in dogs” JAVMA Vol. 231, No. 6, September 15, 2007. Pages 913-918.
2 Joaquim, J. G., Luna, S. P., Brondani, J. T., Torelli, S. R., Rahal, S. C., Freitas, F. P. “Comparison of decompressive surgery, electroacupuncture, and decompressive surgery followed by electroacupuncture for the treatment of dogs with intervertebral disk disease with long-standing severe neurologic deficits” JAVMA Vol. 236, No. 11, June 1, 2010. Pages 1225-1229.