Auburn University veterinarian uses acupuncture to treat horses for chronic pain, other conditions

Published: June 13, 2018
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An Auburn University equine veterinarian is having success treating horses with chronic pain and other conditions by using a form of integrative medicine—acupuncture.

Dr. Kara Lascola, an associate professor of equine internal medicine in the Department of Clinical Sciences, says acupuncture, a key component of traditional Chinese medicine, has been used in humans for over a thousand years.

“In veterinary medicine, it has become more widespread in just the last 10-15 years,” she said. “While it is probably used more commonly on dogs, I routinely use acupuncture on horses for pain management associated with musculoskeletal conditions—such as arthritis, and for treating neuropathies.”

Veterinarians must be trained and certified to practice acupuncture, and Auburn currently has small and large animal veterinary faculty certified to practice this technique: Dr. Stephanie Lindley, a clinical associate professor of medical oncology; Dr. Stuart Clark-Price, an associate professor of anesthesiology; and Dr. Amanda Taylor, an assistant professor of neurology.

“For me and some of my colleagues,” Dr. Lascola said, “our interest in acupuncture stemmed from frustration with the limited options available for treating pain in horses, particularly pain associated with chronic conditions.”

There are different approaches to explain how acupuncture works.

“According to traditional Chinese medicine, there are pathways in the body along which energy flows,” Dr. Lascola said. “As a very simplified explanation, illness results in imbalances of this flow of energy. Inserting needles into acupuncture points—which are located on or near these pathways—is believed to correct these imbalances in energy flow.

“The choice of which acupuncture points to use depends on the underlying problem as well as a variety of patient factors.”

Dr. Lascola says acupuncture can be an effective treatment method for a variety of conditions. “It has even been shown that acupuncture stimulates the body’s own release of endorphins, which are natural pain killing hormones,” she said. “Acupuncture also seems to stimulate circulation and may increase the pain threshold.”

Animals may respond differently to acupuncture therapy, and Dr. Lascola says lasting results involve a series of treatments that are typically tailored to meet the needs of the individual patient. “It is important to remember that acupuncture is not just a one-time treatment that produces long-term results,” she said. “Treatment involves a series of sessions to be effective.”

Dr. Lascola obtained her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 2003 from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, where she also achieved board certification in large animal internal medicine in 2007, and completed a post-doctoral fellowship in 2008. She worked as an assistant and associate professor of equine medicine at the University of Illinois. She became certified in acupuncture in 2015 and is trained to perform acupuncture on horses as well as small animals. She joined Auburn’s equine faculty in January.

In addition to animal healthcare, Dr. Lascola and other faculty have also introduced the therapy in the classroom, lecturing on acupuncture to senior veterinary students.

The College of Veterinary Medicine is the South's original and nation's seventh oldest veterinary medical program, celebrating 126 years. We prepare individuals for careers of excellence in veterinary medicine, including private and public practice, industrial medicine, academics, and research. The college provides programs of instruction, research, outreach, and service that are in the best interests of the citizens of the state of Alabama, the region, the nation, and the world.