A pilot study of the effects of acupuncture treatment on objective and subjective gait parameters in horses

Vet Anaesth Analg. 2017 Jan;44(1):154-162. doi: 10.1111/vaa.12373. Epub 2017 Feb 23.


Objectives: To investigate whether acupuncture can alter gait in horses as assessed by objective and subjective parameters.

Study design: Prospective, randomized, singleblinded, crossover study.

Animals: Eight adult horses.

Methods: Horses were randomly assigned to a treatment (three acupuncture treatments in 8 days) or control group. Subjective and objective gait analyses were performed before and after each treatment and at 1, 3 and 7 days after the last treatment (time-points 1-9, respectively). Horses were assessed at the trot in a straight line on a hard surface and on the lunge on the left and right reins on a soft surface (conditions 1-3, respectively). After 12 weeks, groups were reversed. Objective gait analysis was performed using inertial sensors and subjective analysis by two board- certified surgeons who reviewed video-recordings. Each limb was assessed for lameness before and after treatment. Lameness and global scores were assigned using 4-point scales. Assessors were blinded to treatment status. The effects of treatment (yes/no), time (1-9) and horse under conditions 1 -3 were compared using a linear mixed-effects model and a generalized estimating equation.

Results: Treatment decreased hip hike difference under all conditions [condition 1: control, 6.3 ± 6.4 mm versus treatment, -0.2 ± 6.4 mm (p = 0.007); condition 2: control, 9.7 ± 7.8 mm versus treatment, 2.8 ± 7.8 mm (p = 0.032); condition 3: control, 7.3 ± 6.3 mm versus treatment, -2.7 ± 6.4 mm (p = 0.003)]. Other parameters also improved significantly under conditions 1 and 3. Based on subjective gait analysis, treatment decreased lameness [odds ratio (OR) 0.51, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.34-0.78; p = 0.002] but not global (OR 0.53, 95% CI 0.24-1.10; p = 0.12) scores.

Conclusions and clinical relevance: Acupuncture can change horses' gaits to a degree appreciable by objective and subjective analyses.

Keywords: acupuncture; alternative medicine; equine; lameness; musculoskeletal pain.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy / veterinary*
  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Female
  • Gait*
  • Horse Diseases / physiopathology
  • Horse Diseases / therapy*
  • Horses
  • Lameness, Animal / physiopathology
  • Lameness, Animal / therapy*
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome