What is equine massage?
Friday 25 May 2012
Chartered Veterinary Physiotherapist Kirsty Haines tells us what we need to know about equine massage.
“Do you do equine massage?” the lady on the end of the phone asks. It’s a question Chartered Physios get asked a lot. My first thought is, of course we do! We use our hands as treatment tools, employing a number of different techniques to work through the soft tissues of your horse as we do human’s. Look at any beauty establishment and you will see various massage therapies offered from sports to Swedish and even Indian Head. But what exactly is equine massage and what does it do?
For me, equine massage techniques are just one group of tools in my toolkit, a bit like a joiner has more than one drill bit or chisel. Like any other tool, I use them as and when they are required but by no means do I apply them all to every horse. Sometimes it’s just not appropriate and another technique may be proven to be more effective. Now, there are numerous different types of equine massage strokes and techniques, all aiming to achieve different things. Some use a flat hand, some cupped and others the fingers or even elbow, but all aim to work through the connective or soft tissues (muscle, tendon, ligament and fascia). Whilst a ‘sports’ massage may be carried out all over the body pre or post competition, others may use equine massage to maintain health and well being regardless of discipline or training.
Generally speaking, equine massage strokes applied to the larger muscles of the horse’s body aim to promote well being by reducing tension, offering pain relief and encouraging relaxation. Increased blood flow to the tissues helps deliver more nutrients, while removing waste products. This has profound effects on areas of swelling and where lymphatic drainage is poor. Improved blood flow naturally optimises muscle tissue health which is vital for correct function during exercise. The working through of any areas of tension, trigger points (localised areas of tension or “knots”) and spasm aids the relaxation.
Specific equine massage techniques such as transverse friction massage (pioneered by Cyriax) are employed post injury, mainly to ligament or tendon tissue, to reduce adhesions in healing and scar tissue, affecting the collagen molecules at a cellular level, to directly enhance the quality of healing. This technique in particular is a specific treatment technique rather than something to promote general well being. Myofascial release is another treatment technique employed where tissues are restricted and adhesions are present.
In a nut shell, equine massage is not as simple as it seems. It’s a technique most therapists use to some degree but for many, in combination with other modalities, exercise therapy and stretching to promote overall health and well being. So in answer to the lady on the phone, yes I do equine massage but for me it follows a thorough gait and palpatory assessment and is just one part of my treatment plan.
Kirsty Haines MSc MCSP ACPAT Cat A is a Chartered Veterinary Physiotherapist practicing at Westfield Veterinary Physiotherapy, Tel: 0774 8788564, email: email@example.com.
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