A soothing experience: Custom pain management through alternative therapies


Traditional Chinese medicine provides Dr. Sally Barchman, CVA, an opportunity to create a unique pain management treatment plan for each veterinary patient.

Dr. Barchman performing acupuncture with her dog. | Photo courtesy of Troy Van Horn.

For Sally Barchman, DVM, CVA, owner of State Line Animal Hospital and Holistic Health in Leawood, Kansas, her interest in acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine stems from honoring the memory of a late colleague and friend. Today, inside the spa-like atmosphere of her integrative medicine space, pets in pain find relief.

“I was practicing in the main hospital and it wasn't as zen I imagined it could be. So now in the space we have a running fountain and use an essential oil diffuser, and the walls are in a softer-color paint. We have the tools that we need but try to keep it minimalistic,” Dr. Barchman says. Soft music and comfortable rugs on the floor and exam table complete the space, which is in a leased building across the street from the main hospital. 

Traditional Chinese medicine is composed of five components: acupuncture, food therapy, Chinese herbs, exercise and tui na, which is a type of massage. At Dr. Barchman's practice, instead of massage, a chiropractor not only performs chiropractic adjustments on the animals but also does deep tissue manipulation and myofascial release. Dr. Barchman is certified in veterinary acupuncture and is also working toward her certification in food and Chinese herbs. 

Interested in learning more about alternative medicine?

There are several schools of veterinary acupuncture in the United States, but for those interested the full range of traditional Chinese medicine, Dr. Barchman recommends the Chi Institute in Reddick, Florida.

When an animal presents with signs of pain, Dr. Barchman completes a traditional exam, but then also checks the pet's tongue and pulse diagnosis to direct her treatment plan.

A view of Dr. Barchman's treatment space. | Photo courtesy of Troy Van Horn.

“You look at the tongue's color and whether it is dry or wet, and feel the strength and speed of their pulses, to see what's going on,” she says. Dr. Barchman also discusses food and Chinese herbs with clients in addition to acupuncture.

“There are yin and yang properties in every food, so if an animal presents with hot signs, you want to cool them down; with cool signs you want to warm them up. This can be done with things like changing up the protein in the pet's dry food or home-cooking meals,” she says.

When combined with food and herbs, acupuncture can be performed less frequently, Dr. Barchman says. “Acupuncture is the more expensive part of it, so if we can use food and herbs to help balance out the body, the acupuncture treatments can be done less often,” she says.

The plan is tailored to what each patient and client needs and is able to do. “If a client says I just can't cook for my pet right now, we'll discuss other options,” Dr. Barchman explains.

The essential oils that Dr. Barchman diffuses in her treatment space. | Photo courtesy of Troy Van Horn.

“It depends on what's going with that animal on that day. It goes a little deeper than just giving an NSAID and moving on,” Dr. Barchman says. “Whatever the client wants to do is what we'll do and what works best for the animal. We'll often try a combination of Eastern and Western medicine. I tell the client, ‘A quick fix is medication, but it doesn't always fix the underlying cause.' So sometimes if it's a really painful condition we'll start with medication but then follow up with acupuncture and herbs to try and get them off the medication eventually or prevent the condition from occurring again.”

The flexibility of combining alternative and traditional therapies allows Dr. Barchman to provide a complete solution for each patient she sees, she says. And even though these modalities typically require follow-up appointments over a period of time, she doesn't have problems with client compliance. “Usually the people who are seeking out holistic care are really dedicated, so we don't have too much of a problem with people not coming back,” she says. One thing that helps is that often, especially with painful conditions, results are seen after just one session, she says.

That's not always the case, though, so Dr. Barchman came up with a package plan to encourage follow-through. “If people buy four follow-up treatments, they receive half off of their consult price. In five treatments you should see what's going to happen, so I encourage the package. If they aren't really believers I try to have more than just one treatment to have a chance to help the animal,” Dr. Barchman says.

“Our purpose is loving on people by loving on their pets through high-quality, integrative medicine,” Dr. Barchman says. “So we'll tailor the plan to whatever the client wants to do.”

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