Neck, Back and Spinal Problems

As in humans, back pain is common in domestic animals. Back pain may arise due to a physical problem with the back, such as a herniated spinal disc (intervertebral disc disease, IVDD), or following an injury to the hind legs. In horses, it can be caused by injury during work or problems with saddle fit. It is also common in older animals, which may be suffering from arthritis and fusion of the bones in the spinal column.

For certain problems affecting the back, such as a severely herniated disc, surgery may give the best outcome. However, for more chronic and nagging problems such as pain due to arthritis, spondylosis (fusing of the vertebrae) or Wobbler syndrome, the only treatment may be anti-inflammatory drugs. These may not be completely effective and also carry the risk of adverse side effects. Many older dogs become weak in their hind limbs as they age. Again, there is unfortunately no effective conventional treatment for this. In horses, back pain may manifest as general poor performance and/or irritability, and may therefore go undiagnosed.

Acupuncture for Spinal and Back Problems

Acupuncture has proven pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects and can be used to effectively treat back problems. For conditions such as a herniated disc, the benefits and risks of surgery should be carefully considered. Research has shown whether surgery or medicine is the conventional treatment chosen, animals with herniated discs have better outcomes when acupuncture is added to the treatment regime. However, sometimes surgery is not an option (it is most beneficial within the first 24-48 hours after spinal cord injury) and some studies have shown that acupuncture can be as effective as surgery when performed by a trained acupuncturist. Acupuncture does not carry the risks that surgery does and is also a much less expensive option.

Acupuncture’s pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects also benefit other back problems such as arthritis, spondylosis (fusion of spinal vertebrae) and muscle pain due to injury or compensation from injury. Acupuncture can relax ‘knotted’ muscles and from a Chinese perspective, smoothes the flow of the body’s energy or Qi, therefore relieving pain. Use of acupuncture can therefore often allow the dose of conventional anti-inflammatory drugs to be reduced, decreasing the chance of adverse side effects. Animals requiring treatment for a chronic condition such as arthritis generally need an initial course of 4-8 treatments at weekly intervals, followed by occasional maintenance treatments every 1-4 months to maintain the improvement in their condition. Horses in particular can benefit from acupuncture to treat soft tissue injuries. Many studies have shown that acupuncture can effectively relieve back pain in horses just as effectively as drugs, but without side effects.

For dogs and cats with hindlimb weakness, acupuncture can help to strengthen these limbs by improving circulation and nervous system function. Hindlimb weakness is better treated sooner rather than later, as it is easier to slow the development of this serious condition than restore function once it is significantly lost.

Chinese Herbal Medicine for Spinal and Back Problems

Herbal medicine acts synergistically with acupuncture. Herbs can be used both to help relieve pain (many herbs contain constituents that are anti-inflammatory) and also to treat the underlying imbalance that is causing the problem. Although further research is needed, studies using herbs to treat herniated lumbar discs in humans have found that herbs improve blood circulation, protect nerves from damage and stimulate collagen synthesis to prevent further disc degeneration, in addition to their pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects. Some studies have found that herbs are more effective to relieve pain and inflammation than conventional pain-killing drugs, and also have the advantage of not having adverse side effects.

Herbs generally do not interact with conventional medications and can be easily administered as pills or capsules (dogs and cats) or herbal powders (horses). There are now many formulas available that are specifically designed for veterinary patients and their common problems, such as formulas to treat hindlimb weakness or spinal disc disease (herniated disc).

Tui-na for Spinal and Back Problems

Tui-na is a form of Chinese medical massage. It works on the same principles as acupuncture, using massage techniques along the acupuncture channels to move the body’s energy (Qi) and relieve pain. It is particularly suitable for painful musculoskeletal disorders such as back pain. The techniques used in Tui-na are a combination of movements similar to Western massage and chiropractic.

Animals with back pain often benefit from Tui-na and if appropriate, Dr. Harris can teach you a short Tui-na routine so you can perform it at home in between acupuncture treatments. Animals generally enjoy the massage and the attention and it allows you to take an active role in your animal’s healthcare.


New York Veterinary Acupuncture Service provides acupuncture, herbal medicine, Tui-na and Chinese food therapy on either a house call basis or at several area clinics. House calls are offered in New York's Orange County (Newburgh, Middletown, Beacon, Warwick, Goshen, Washingtonville, Florida, Chester, Monroe, Harriman, Tuxedo and surrounding areas). Thursday house calls are available in Manhattan. Fees vary by location; for more information, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Office visits are available as follows:

High Point K9 Center
2224 Mt. Hope Rd., Middletown, NY
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Compassion Veterinary Health Center
235 South Ave., Poughkeepsie, NY
Contact CVHC on 845-473-0358 for appointments

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