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Equine Back Pain by Tracy Lomax D.O

Monday, March 23, 2015  ‹ Back To Latest News List

Does your horse have back pain?
The basic structure of a horse is modified on an ancestor adapted for grazing, reproducing, and frustrating predators. Its modern descendant has been modified to develop many different qualities such as speed for racing, power for jumping, flexibility for dressage, agility for polo and the ability to carry a variable amount of weight on its back.

Pain sensation is an obvious effect of injury but it is difficult to quantify in animals. The horse probably does not perceive pain in human terms. As a herd animal, its survival in the wild depends on being able to keep up with the group, as stragglers are vulnerable to predators. In the case of injury, it is in its best interests to make adjustments and carry on moving (this ability to compensate is demonstrated remarkably well with thermography). Although there may be acute pain in one region, there will often be other areas of longstanding dysfunction, apparent on observation and palpation, with which the horse has coped by making adjustments to the way it moves. The point at which it no longer makes adequate adjustments is where the problem significantly interferes with performance. The process is reflected in a typical history where the owner describes minor assymetries and imperfections over a long period, leading up to a sudden onset of pain in a particular area without an identifiable cause. Another feature of this type of presentation is that treating the local acute area may be effective in the short term, but problems tend to recur, generally with increasing frequency, intensity and duration.

Just as people suffer from stiffness, arthritic conditions, soreness and general wear and tear; so do animals. Osteopathy is a well-established treatment method of manual therapy that treats the body as a whole (not just the individual parts).

Low Back Pain In Horses
When looking at lower back pain in horses, the Lumbosacral joint is worthy of special consideration as it acts as a hinge between the lumbar spine and the solid mass of the sacrum and pelvis. It is the most mobile, segmenting the lumbar spine by virtue of the absence of a supraspinal ligament and the widely spaced spinous processes. Its principal ranges of movements are flexion and extension. Acute problems here are common, either as a direct result of trauma or as a result of increased loading from dysfunction elsewhere.

Problems of the thoracolumbar spine can also occur as this area is where the back of the saddle sits. It provides a relatively rigid, strong, resilient scaffold from which the abdomen is slung and from which the limb girdles can act during movement. Problems here may range from discomfort when saddling, to difficulties bringing the hind limbs under the trunk. Points of sensitivity along the back are not uncommon.

Thermography And How It Helps With Osteopathy Or Any Manual Therapy
Thermography is a useful diagnostic tool for visualising muscular activity and autonomic nervous system responses. In lay mans terms, it stops 'one fumbling around in the dark'. Discovery the technology was an epiphany for me as an Osteopath and I will not treat a horse without recommending a full body scan first. For me, it eradicates the frustration I have experienced in the last 25 years I have been treating horse's backs, only to find that the cause is elsewhere.

Some cases present with marked and extensive surface temperature changes which are the manifestation of a short - term problem that has not yet created compensatory patterns or movement. Other more subtle findings on thermographic scans point to the existence of a more complex problem. Typically, these cases show slight cooling at the top of the neck, indicating upper cervical dysfunction which, over time, has compensated for adverse neuromusculoskeletal changes.

Other thermographic patterns suggesting long - term problems are disruption to the normal warm dorsal stripe extending from the withers to the coccyx. This is explained by reduced activity and a corresponding reduction in heat production of the erector spinae as a consequence of stiffness and pain. Changes in the segmental supply by the sympathetic nervous system in response to injury also contribute to this cooling effect.

A multi-disciplinary team is often more effective when working together. In the UK, the law states that Osteopaths, Chiropractors and Physiotherapists must have veterinary consent before treating an animal.

I have been lucky to have worked with Anthony Pusey who was the father of animal osteopathy and Dr Chris Colles a vet with a research background at the Animal Health Trust. Anthony Pusey DO and Dr Colles decided to work together at Avonvale veterinary Centre. This clinic had patients from the top ranks of the horse world including Olympic competitors from a number of different nations. Dr Colles was interested in using thermography as an objective tool to identify problems and evaluate the effect of treatment.