Volume 34, Issue 9, September 2014, Pages 1084–1090
Original Research

Does Acupuncture Acutely Affect Heart Rate Variability in Horses?


One of the mechanisms by which acupuncture (AP) exerts its purported effects involves modulation of the autonomic nervous system. Heart rate variability (HRV) noninvasively and quantitatively assesses autonomic nervous system activity. We hypothesized that AP treatment would acutely affect HRV by affecting autonomic tone. Eleven horses received three treatments in random order on different days: AP, placement of AP needles at eight AP points; sham AP (SAP), placement of eight AP needles at non-AP points; and control, no needles inserted. A Holter monitor recorded an electrocardiogram for 40 minutes during each treatment session and was analyzed over three periods: 10 minutes of initial “baseline” before AP and/or SAP, the first 10 minutes of a 20-minute AP/SAP/control “treatment”, and the first 10 minutes “post”-AP/SAP/control. RR intervals were measured during each period after the electrocardiograms were inspected and filtered, and mean heart rate (HR), low-frequency (LF) power (0.01–0.07 Hz), high-frequency (HF) power (0.07–0.6 Hz), and LF-to-HF ratio were calculated for each period. Baseline HR decreased with sequential experiments. Within experiments, HF decreased and LF-to-HF ratio increased reciprocally with time. These results suggest that parasympathetic tone decreased over the course of the experiment, perhaps, because of the stress of being restrained. Consequently, HRV indices were either not acutely affected by AP over the intervals studied or autonomic responses to being restrained may have masked any autonomic response to AP.


  • Acupuncture; 
  • Cardiovascular system; 
  • Parasympathetic nervous system; 
  • Autonomic nervous system; 
  • Equine

Corresponding author at: Dr Sarah S. le Jeune, DVM, DACVS, DACVSMR, Department of Surgical and Radiological Sciences, University of California, 1 Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616.
Dr Williams's present address is Rocky Bay Equine, PO Box 452, Vaughn, WA 98394.