The spine of an animal is made up of over 30 bones, called vertebra. Vertebrae are held together by ligaments and muscles. Spinal muscles form a braided bundle that extends from neck to tail. In between the vertebrae there is a cushion made of an external portion (cartilage) and an internal liquid portion. This cushion is called the intervertebral disk. The combination of multiple bones joined by ligaments allows a strong but flexible structure that allows bending in all directions. Intervertebral disks absorb shock, protecting the spinal cord. Try stamping your feet! The shock propagates throughout your body, just as a wave induced by a pebble propagates across the surface of a pond.
Intervertebral disks crack and degenerate because of trauma, aging, birth defects, or poor conformation. The disk may gradually break and develop calcium deposits, losing the shock absorption properties. Shock causes cumulative damage, inflammation, and pain. Spinal muscles become tense and develop knots which may be distant from a damaged disk. A vicious circle is established where pain generates muscle tension, which contributes to the rigidity of the spine, which generates further loss of shock absorption, further damage, and pain.
Local inflammation in a damaged disk affects the roots of the spinal nerves, causing interference in their domain. Occasionally animals become lame in one of their limbs without any actual lesion in the affected limb. In others the function of viscera, such as the bladder or rectum, may be affected, causing urinary or fecal incontinence. This is seen commonly in old dogs of large breeds.
Conventional treatment for disk disease include: Non Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), steroids, and surgery (laminectomy).
In Dr. Moncayo's practice he has found acupuncture highly effective for the treatment of disk disease in dogs. In fact, this is perhaps the most successful application of acupuncture in animals. Acupuncture has not only anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain killing) effects, but also stimulates the nerves to re-establish their function.