Veterinary Physiotherapy: Common Treatments

Veterinary Physiotherapy is effectively used to reduce the amount of time taken to heal, to improve the quality of post-injury/disease biomechanics, and to do more than what would otherwise take place by nature alone (as in, if you left your horse to their own devices in the field for a year!) 

Injury

Injury to horses is common and often extensive. The problem with injury is that not only do we want to encourage maximal healing to the assaulted area and tissue, but we want to maintain muscle mass and tone where possible, as well as good bone density, tendon and ligament condition, blood supply, correct biomechanics as well as their mental stimulation! 

 

A big, almost unavoidable consequence of injury is the resultant compensatory pattern that horses develop to avoid overusing that injured part of their bodies. This is the same mechanism that makes us limp when we have hurt our legs, or brace our necks and hold our heads still when we have pulled a muscle. Unfortunately, however, we can't simply tell horses how to re-engage these muscles that may have been compensating for days, to weeks, months or even years. A good, detail-oriented Veterinary Physiotherapist will be able to identify potential areas of compensation, and should be able to offer a variety of manual and electrotherapy techniques which will begin to re-activate and re-educate underused and poorly coordinated muscle groups. Eventually a remedial exercise program will be employed to strengthen the newly re-activated biomechanics, which should see your horse move correctly and hopefully add longevity to their ridden careers. 

Injuries that could benefit (among many!)

  1. Bone fractures​​

  2. Tendon and Ligament lesions 

  3. Cartilage damage and/or degradation 

  4. Open wounds that are taking extensive time to heal

  5. Nerve damage 

  6. Muscle tears/haematomas/strains/knots

Pre- and post-surgery rehabilitation

  1. Targeted pain relief prior and post- surgeries enhance the comfort levels and often behaviour of the horse. If appropriate, strengthening of core musculature can enhance the recovery time post-surgery. Finally, acclimatising a horse to the process of Veterinary Physiotherapy provides a benchmark for that horse’s condition, movement and body function which means the post-surgery condition and eventual recovery can be effectively, objectively assessed

Behavioural problems

  1. Sudden changes in behaviour are crucial in determining something wrong: whether it be a sudden inability to bend and flex one way when ridden, or a normally placid horse becoming extremely sharp (and vice-versa!). These changes can represent changes in horses' bodies, which should be observed and treated accordingly.  

  2. Aggressive or fearful behaviour: bucking, rearing, bolting can be evasion tactics for horses who are unable or unwilling to work. Pain may become associated with some training exercises or methods

  3. Dull or overly-quiet behaviour for a commonly energetic horse can indicate pain. Lazy horses (whether it be sudden or over time) can be protecting their bodies from the increased effort because that increases pain somewhere, and they are reluctant to perform. 

  4. "That's just them" - One of my pet hates as a horsewoman first and Veterinary Physiotherapist second! A horse showing any sign other than a normal and relaxed demeanour prior to work or any exercise (or any interaction really!) should receive the benefit of doubt and be investigated for underlying issues. This is a common area that I find myself: providing a link between ridden behaviour, body condition and tone and communicating with the owner and eventually the vet to determine potential routes of investigation. Sometimes a lengthy process, sometimes a very quick fix. Always a happier horse by the end! 

Increased sensitivity

  1. Saddle placement and girthing up may incite aggression, biting or kicking which could indicate pain.

  2. Strong evasion to bridle or halter application can indicate head pain, similarly head-shy horses may be avoiding pressure on their heads. 

Performance

  1. Uncommonly lacklustre performance in training and/or competition could indicate a horse not feeling 100% and therefore possibly in need of enhanced recovery guided by a Veterinary Physiotherapist. 

  2. Abnormal biomechanics, including lameness are distinct reasons for investigation by a veterinarian and subsequent Physiotherapy treatment. 

  3. Joint inflammation, soft-tissue damage and muscular pain and spasm may all cause changes in biomechanics, and the compensation resulting from these problems can increase damage elsewhere (our blog on this will help you understand why!) and as a result need to be addressed as early as possible to prevent extensive secondary damage.