Clients often ask me about gold bead implants. I use acupuncture daily on my patients for pain relief and to treat spasming muscles but I have never done gold bead implants.

Gold beads are a permanent form of acupuncture. They are inserted into acupuncture points  through the hub of a needle. The procedure is done in a sterile operating room with the patient under general anaesthetic.

Acupoints are specific points in the body and are located along meridians. These points are often areas of high electrical conductivity and, when stimulated either by an acupuncture needle, acupressure or a gold bead, have physiological effects in the body. These include blocking pain pathways back to the brain as well as causing the release of endorphins and serotonins.

So I looked up the clinical studies done on gold bead implants. This one is the most compelling (Jaeger, Larsen 2006)
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16731702

This is a double-blinded placebo controlled study looking at the pain relieving effects of gold bead implants in dogs with hip dysplasia. There was significant improvement in the gold bead implant group in comparison to the control with regards to mobility and reduction in pain. The researchers went on to study 73 of these dogs for an additional 18 months and the results were similar to the initial six-months study. The only problem I see with this additional study was that it was not blinded. (Jaeger, Larse 2007).
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1851017

Other studies previously done on gold beads and gold wires showed little improvements: (Bollinger 2002) (Helm-Borkman 2001)
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11688748

Interestingly, another study done on dogs looked at epileptic seizure treatment. Epileptic seizure medication comes with many side effects and holistic veterinary surgeons practicing acupuncture have seen some improvements when using acupuncture as an alternative treatment. In this study the researchers looked at the electroencephalographic recordings when gold wire implants were placed in 15 dogs with uncontrolled epileptic seizures. There was no significant difference in the EEG recordings before and after treatment but there was a decrease in the seizure frequency and severity. After the study, 9/15 dogs had a reported 50% reduction in seizure frequency during the 15 weeks of the trial. (Goiz-Marquez, Caballero 2009).
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18621407

There is a lot of controversy regarding acupuncture, whether acupoints actually exist and whether there is any benefit whatsoever in this form of treatment. Those practicing acupuncture see the results on a daily basis.

Dr Terry Burkes was one of the pioneers in gold bead implants in the 1970s. He has his own practice still and there is a wealth of information on his website:
http://durkesveterinaryclinic.com/gold-bead-implants.html

I have a few colleagues in South Africa who use this form of treatment with great success. I interviewed Dr Jane Fraser from Durban who performs this technique and this is what she had to say:

Q:  How long have you been using gold bead implants?
A:  About 7 to 8 years.

Q:  What conditions do you treat with gold bead implants?
A:  Most commonly hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, spondylosis, IVDD, cervical spondylopathy.

Q:  An interesting clinical study looked at gold wire implants as a form of epileptic seizure treatment. Have you used it for this condition? If so what is your success rate?
A:  No I have not used them for epilepsy.

Q:  Are there any complications, e.g., infection, migration into joints, etc?
A:  I personally have not had any complications.

Q:  Can physiotherapists use modalities such as laser, ultrasound and magnetic therapy when a dog has gold beads present?
A:  As far as I am aware there should be no problems. MRI is the only contra-indication.

Q:  Can you acupuncture dogs with gold beads in the same acupoints for additional effect?
A:  I have not had any need to do that but would not be an issue.

Q:  How long do you see the results and does the efficacy start decreasing eventually?
A:  It varies a lot – from immediate effects within a day or so of the procedure to slow progressive improvement over a matter of weeks.

Q:  Can you replace the gold beads and have the same initial effect?
A:  I have never done that – once implanted they cannot be removed. I guess one could implant more.

Q:  What case can you think of that you had the most amazing results with?
A:  I had a couple of Great Danes with wobblers that did really well. Also a GSD called Royce, nine years old now. Diagnosed with severe bilateral HD in 2010. Owners considered euthanasia as prognosis was very poor. I did gold bead implants on both hips in February 2011. He has done exceptionally well. In excellent physical condition and can manage short walks. He is not on any pain medication and has an excellent quality of life.

Considering the research and anecdotal results, in my opinion gold beads are definitely an option in the long term management of chronic musculoskeletal conditions in small animals.

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