Chiropractic care for horses
Animal chiropractors diagnose and treat "stuck joints", including those of the back. Diagnosis is made via thorough palpation combined with a strong knowledge of anatomy and normal joint motion. Once the subluxation, or "stuck" joint, is identified, the animal chiropractor will correct it with an adjustment. An adjustment is a high velocity, low amplitude thrust on a specific bone in a specific direction. This means the adjustment is very quick, yet gentle.
Even though horses have a very thick muscle mass over the spine, the vertebral joints are moveable and relatively easy to manipulate. Adjustments influence bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments. A high velocity, low amplitude thrust in a specific direction is used to help restore normal joint movement. If the correct technique is used, the ligaments and other soft tissue are not impacted. For most animals the treatment is very relaxing. Often, you will see the animal licking, chewing, yawning, and sighing during a chiropractic treatment.
Horses with restricted joint motion must compensate by changing their posture and way of going. If left unresolved, restricted joint motion can eventually cause bigger problems because of the negative effects on biomechanics and the nervous system. Pain is a common symptom associated with restricted joint motion. A horse may benefit from a chiropractic evaluation if you notice signs of pain, including:
- Abnormal posture while standing
- Discomfort when brushing or saddling
- Reduced performance
- Evasion issues such as head tossing, grabbing the bit, or hollowing the back
- Pinning ears, bucking, or swishing tail
- Refusing jumps or knocking rails
- Other signs of discomfort when ridden
- Abnormal behavior issues
- The horse may seem “off”, both mentally or physically
- Facial expression of pain or apprehension
- Sensitivity to touch
More subtle signs can include:
- Not tracking up
- Inability or difficulty engaging the hindquarters
- Differences in muscle size and/or tone
- Irregularity of gait, which cannot be assigned to a leg
- Difficulty flexing at the poll, neck or back
- Difficulty with collection or lateral movements
- Inability to stretch or lengthen topline
- Difficulty with leads or cross cantering
- Brushing or interfering
- Stiffness - generalized or on one side of the body or neck
- Decreased coordination in gaits
- Horse is on the forehand
- Stiffness coming out of the stall
- Horse pulls against one rein
- Back does not swing
Each animal is an individual and the goals of treatments are unique to each case. A problem usually takes time to become severe enough to show clinical signs and symptoms. Therefore, a single treatment is usually not enough to eliminate a problem. Most animals show significant improvement after 1 to 3 treatments. Chronic problems usually take longer to resolve and require more chiropractic treatment, whereas animals with acute problems often respond more quickly. Even after a specific problem is resolved, it is recommended that your animal have regular spinal checks by an animal chiropractor in order to ensure a healthy functioning nervous system. It is much easier to resolve joint motion issues when they are identified early.
The initial consultation, exam, and treatment will usually last between 45 minutes and one hour. The initial visit tends to take longer than subsequent treatments, which usually last between 30 and 45 minutes depending on the animal chiropractor's findings.
"Stuck joints" can occur at all ages. Performance injuries, stress, poor nutrition, fatigue, and even the birth process are among some of the most common causes. However, chiropractic is not a replacement for traditional veterinary medicine. Animal chiropractic should be integrated with veterinary care.
Dr. Kyla Awes is contracted by the Univ. of Minn. Equine Center to work out of the Piper Performance Clinic.