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Extension > Agriculture > Livestock > Horse > Horse care and management > Rehabilitation therapies

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Rehabilitation therapies

Lisa Borgia, University of Minnesota

Photo 1.  underwater treadmill

Photo 1. underwater treadmill

Human sports medicine has made tremendous advances in the last half century, with athletes setting new records while enjoying longer careers and faster recoveries from injury. Equine veterinary medicine is now keeping pace with these advances. Rehabilitative services offered at the U of M Equine Center focus on aiding your horse to gain strength and mobility and return to performance as quickly as possible after an injury, as well as preventing injuries from reoccurring.

A thorough evaluation, history, palpation, gait analysis, imaging, and assessment of the type of injury that has occurred will dictate the prescribed course of rehabilitative therapy. Staff members recently completed training at the Equine Rehabilitation Institute in Florida, an essential step to creating a credible program that offers a quality service. The University of Minnesota recently installed the only underwater treadmill in the region specifically for equine rehabilitation. Types of rehabilitative therapies include acupressure, stretching, massage therapy, underwater treadmill, high-speed treadmill, electrical stimulation, and ultrasound.

Photo 2. electrical stimulation.

Photo 2. electrical stimulation.

Massage, acupressure, heat and cold therapies, and joint mobilization are used to reduce pain and swelling, as well as to increase joint range of motion and muscle function. Stretching exercises and physical rehabilitation techniques are used for treating some soft-tissue injuries. Massage therapy may be used to increase range of motion and gait, thus maximizing quality of life for the patient.

The underwater treadmill (photo 1) is used for rehabilitation and range of motion exercise, with the water acting to both support the horse and provide resistance.

Horses suffering from injuries such as tendon bows that would otherwise be unable to exercise, may be able to use the underwater treadmill for rehabilitation purposes.

The high-speed treadmill mimics traditional conditioning, using both slow and fast work to improve stamina, skeletal strength, and coordination in a controlled environment.

Electrical stimulation (Photo 2) increases circulation, promotes healing, can reduce pain, and is tolerated well by horses. It can also be used to improve muscle atrophy.

Therapeutic ultrasound uses a form of acoustic energy that acts as a deep tissue-heating agent and treats musculoskeletal injuries. Therapeutic uses include joint mobility, analgesia, wound healing, edema reduction, and tendon repair.

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