How to treat and prevent back pain in horses
Tuesday 29 May 2012
Chartered Veterinary Physiotherapist Kirsty Haines explains how to protect horses' back and core muscles and prevent back pain.
When the bow and string goes ping!!! Many different analogies have been used to describe the horses back and core muscles. My favourite has to be the bow and string theory, which likens the horse’s musculoskeletal system to a violin bow.
Basically the horses spine is the bow and its core abdominal muscles are the string. Part of the reason I like this one, is that visually you can imagine what happens when there is an imbalance in the tension of one of the components.
Imagine the horse working as we would like. Light, rounded and engaged, with the correct amount of muscle tension (there must be some or we’d be all floppy) to produce a fluid but controlled movement.
Now imagine the horse with back pain, hollowing under the saddle when ridden. The bow, instead of being rounded, flattens and the strings elongate. This represents the horses vertebral column packing together with no support from the core abdominal muscles which are not engaged correctly to support the spine. This is nothing to do with the horses conformation in most cases but a reflection of the incorrect muscle development over time and inability to activate the correct muscles to produce movement whilst leaving others to provide support.
The opposite of this is the horse who cannot stabilise himself with his core muscles and instead tightens all of his abdominal muscles (and usually some paraspinal muscles) to hold himself together. The string is tightened, pulling the bow slightly. These horses typically may look tucked up. They also are not able to produce an effective bend through the thoracic and lumbar spine (under and just behind the saddle) as they are holding on so much to keep themselves together. These horses tend to cheat and produce a false bend at the base of the neck.
As you can imagine, neither scenario is ideal as muscle imbalance and poor movement places excessive stresses on joints and soft tissues, making the which are being worked incorrectly, potentially making them more prone to overuse as well as acute injuries.
Retraining your horses way of going is not a quick thing, but most horses respond very well to simple exercises in hand, designed to re-programme their movement patterns and with repetition will carry these over to ridden work.
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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