Preventing Injury in Your Riding Horse

What would your horse be like if all his muscles were in a state of relaxation, free from tension? Deep tissue massage, stress and trigger point therapy, and myofascial release
will help the connective tissue become more elastic, thereby allowing the muscle to  return to its natural shape.

It is very important for horses to maintain a comfortable and free range of motion.  If certain muscles are tight, other muscles in the body will compensate and take up the extra workload. They may be ridden like this for weeks, months or years, until the body can no longer call on extra resources because it does not have them. This ultimately leads to ruptures of soft tissues and thickening of the tendon and ligaments, which eventually can cause permanent dysfunction of the affected area.

Muscles attach to  bones in pairs of opposites, and cross one joint or more. Muscles free from tension will carry out the function of keeping joints in alignment.  This allows joint fluid to flow evenly within the joint, and this reduces unnatural wear and tear of joints.

Each muscle is attached to bone by tendons. Muscles are designed to take 90% of workload and tendons the other 10% The muscle is where the elasticity is. If the muscle is not functioning properly then the tendons will take more load and can eventually tear.

Equine massage therapy is a very powerful tool in injury prevention for horses.

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Immediate Pain Relief

Cold laser treatments provide pets with relief from painful symptoms of a variety of medical conditions and diseases. These treatments are non-invasive and painless. Recovery time is greatly reduced.

Both laser therapy and acupuncture are based on traditional Chinese medicine’s concept of chi, or energy. Ancient theories about how chi moves through the body mirror modern medicine’s understanding of how the nervous system functions in the body. Both acupuncture and laser therapy pinpoint specific spots along the body’s chi (or nervous system) where there are blockages, which obstruct the flow of energy or information throughout the body. Blockages hinder the body’s ability to function at an optimal level and heal at an accelerated rate.

Both acupuncture and laser therapy have been shown to increase circulation throughout the body, reducing inflammation, relieving pain, and accelerating healing. These therapies offer pain management and treatment for conditions like immune-related disorders, skin conditions, arthritis, and reproductive disorders.

Low level laser therapy is being successfully used treat pain or stiffness associated with arthritis and other degenerative joint conditions, acute injuries, and post-operative recovery for surgical patients. It has been found to be an excellent, well-tolerated alternative to drugs. This type of laser treatment is different from surgical lasers that cut. This wavelength of light penetrates the skin without cutting or burning it. It stimulates the cells and blood vessels that lie just beneath the skin. It does this without causing any harm to the tissues.

The laser’s contact with injured or diseased tissue promotes the production of ATP, a substance essential to cellular reproduction and repair. This enhances the body’s natural healing abilities. Laser therapy strengthens injured tissues, which makes them less vulnerable to re-injury during the recovery process. It also reduces internal scarring, another potential source of pain and stiffness. Painkilling drugs can only mask the symptoms — they don’t treat the underlying issues.

 

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How the Body Regulates Muscle Tension

Tendons connect muscles to bone. There are groups of cells within a tendon, where the fibers of the muscle meet the tendon, called Golgi tendon bodies. Made up of strands of collagen, the Golgi organ also contains nerve tissue. The major function of this organ is to sense muscle tension when a muscle is contracted, sending signals to the brain about how much force is being exerted.

Golgi tendon organs and muscle spindle cells work together to prevent injury to muscles. The more the muscle tries to stretch and the faster it tries to stretch, the more the Golgi tendon organs cause it to contract. 

These nerve cells and fibers can be influenced by massage. Golgi tendon organs react to sustained  pressure such as trigger point therapy and stress point therapy,  by telling the muscle to relax.

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The Importance of a Gentle Warm Up

Probably the biggest problem I observe is riders demanding a “frame” from their horse within moments of mounting. Using hands to force the head and neck into a fixed shape causes damage that is difficult to reverse.  Without a good period of time that allows the horse to stretch, warm up muscles, and find their balance under the rider, muscles and fascia tend to get stuck into adhesions.

Superficial fascia is the connective tissue that is found beneath the skin. This tissue links and covers blood vessels, nerves, muscles, and bones. The fascia and muscle combine to form the mysofascial system. Adhesions limit muscle movement which interferes with performance.  Adhesions can also cause severe pain, reduced flexibility, and tender trigger points. 

To release adhesions, I use a technique called ‘myofascial release.’ This technique involves applying gentle but sustained pressure on the soft tissue. During this technique, it is also important to target the fascia. This helps to lengthen and soften the fascia and break up the adhesions and any scar tissue that is present between the bones, muscles, and skin. Scientific evidence shows that myofascial release offers relief from different types of joint and muscle pains. Flexibility and movement is then restored.

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More Benefits of Equine Massage

My job description: using my hands to free soft tissue to encourage length, motion, and geometrical balance in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. I have to be extremely observant, since communication with animals is non-verbal, to figure out how they can be better aligned and balanced.

After a session, most animals are both relaxed and energized.  Since I see a bodywork session as a collaboration between me and the animal (not me imposing something upon them) they are always happy to see me again.

One of the reasons it is so important that muscles and fascia be relaxed and elastic is that if muscles are tense, when the hoofs hit the ground, more concussion will be taken by the joints. This is a set-up for injury and early degeneration of the joints. Healthy muscles make sure that the impact when the hoof hits the ground is distributed throughout the body. Supple muscles are able to absorb the force of the feet hitting the ground much better than tight muscles.

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Become Involved in Your Own Health Care!

Pain is the primary reason people seek medical treatment in the United States. The majority of this pain occurs in the musculoskeletal system. It would seem essential that medical professionals have in depth knowledge of this subject.  If not, your doctor might fall back on old standards of care for chronic muscle and joint pain, such as anti inflammatory meds, possible antidepressants, and sleep medications. None of those “cures” get to the underlying cause of pain, and all have toxic side effects. Did you know that anti-inflammatory drugs inhibit the healing and tissue regeneration process? Nonsteroidal ani-inflammatory drugs, the number one prescribed drug for chronic pain, can cause tremendous damage to tissues. Why not try myofascial release, or trigger point therapy?

In 1998, a study was completed to assess the competency of recent medical school graduates in musculoskeletal medicine. 82% of the recent graduates failed the exam. The study went on to report that the average time spent in medical education in orthopedics was 2 weeks. One third of all medical school graduates had no orthopedic education. Because the results of the study were so shocking, it was repeated in 2002. A passing score was set at 70%. 78% of recent medical graduates failed to demonstrate basic competency in musculoskeletal medicine.

Needless to say, it may be very difficult to find help for your lower back pain, muscle pain, or joint pain. I am not a doctor, but I have found many ways in my studies and experiments (on myself, friends, and animals) to relieve pain using nutrition, supplements, low level laser therapy, myofascial release,  and sports massage. Not only can pain be eliminated, but wellness and disease prevention can all be achieved with safe lifestyle changes.

 

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Restoring Normal Function with LLLT

Reduce inflammation. Decrease pain. Heal wounds. Improve movement. Low Level Laser Therapy does all these things and more. The light energy (called photons) from the laser penetrates about an inch under the skin into cells and stimulates cellular activity. This extra activity helps the cells to repair themselves. 

I recently worked on a beautiful show horse that suffers from painful windpuffs. When I used the cold laser on the swollen areas he did some unusual twitching in his body, so I knew something was going on! The next morning, the swelling and pain were gone and he was being ridden through some intricate movements beautifully.

Excellent results from the cold laser are the norm with arthritis. Wound healing is much faster with a few treatments. I have been treating myself for a torn tendon (I jumped out of the way of a mare that had been frightened by a dog ). I was in quite a lot of pain and thought it might take months to heal. After five days of using the laser for 30 minutes I am now walking quite comfortably (I’m still avoiding hills) and it looks like this will be a fairly quick recovery. 

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Care of Your Equine Athlete

People often make comments to me like “You must have really strong hands” or “Your arms must have big muscles”, but Trigger Point Therapy, Myofascial Release, Stress Point Therapy are all fairly gentle practices. Accuracy, through knowledge of anatomy, reduces the need for brute strength.  The massage is deep, with firm pressure, stimulating endorphins, and the horse often helps me by leaning into my hands.

Trigger Point therapy targets areas of stress where muscle attaches to bone. The treatment specifically targets areas of constriction that refer pain signals to other parts of the body. Myofascial release is related to trigger point therapy, but focuses on tightness , or other disorders afflicting the fascia, a membrane that surrounds the muscles and may restrict their motion.  What makes my work so exciting is that I can switch methods as I move around the horse, using what is needed for each area of the body. 

All animals need to have their bodies in balance to live long and active lives. For show horses it makes the difference between winning and being withdrawn from the competition Tight muscles can affect  posture, and poor posture can cause spinal misalignments. The reverse is also true — spinal alignments can lead to muscle strain. 

Massage therapy should also be part of the process of rehabilitating from injuries, regaining lost range of motion, or coping with chronic pain conditions.  Body work for your horse can produce dramatic results in a short period of time: one of the many reasons it is so exciting for me to go to work!

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Help Your Pets Without Drugs

 Low Level Laser Therapy causes tissues to heal faster – muscle, skin and nerve – 66 percent faster, according to an FDA study. The study took 100 patients complaining of neck and shoulder pain. Half were treated with a useless red light (placebo group) similar to that on a computer mouse or grocery check-out, and the other half received LLLT. The treatment group beat the placebo group by 66 percent! That’s 66 percent faster and more complete relief – a remarkable margin. Similar studies have been passed by the FDA for carpal tunnel, wounds, and scar tissue.

Laser therapy is a non-toxic alternative to drugs. Animals with arthritis, skin conditions, injuries, and post surgical wounds can be safely treated with the cold laser. By avoiding over-use of medications, animals (and humans) will have more energy as they heal.  There are no risks to this treatment, which is why I use it so much with my clients.

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My Detective Work

I often say that doing body work on animals is detective work.  I get a medical history from the owner, but not from the client himself.  The horse or dog can’t point out where they might be feeling pain, so I have to tune in to all their subtle signals (and you would be amazed how stoic some animals can be!).

About 75% of trigger points are not where the pain is, so a thorough knowledge of anatomy, stress, and trigger points is essential.  I worked on a young mare that was expressing discomfort in her neck. She tossed her head a lot, especially during transitions. When her rider picked up the reins, she curled her nose to her chest. She was showing discomfort, but after examining her, I found her pelvis was very uneven. Her right pelvic crest (what some people might call the hip) was a good two inches higher than the left. It took three adjustments during the session to finally get her body level, but she was very focused on helping during the work. She walked off showing a fluid movement that we had not seen before, and she kept stretching her neck out.  Reports from the rider have been very positive: the mare continues to improve, stretch, move forward, and seek contact.

Trigger point referral patterns from multiple trigger points can overlap, causing a composite referral pattern. This has been the case with the young and green mare. As one problem gets resolved, it leads me to the next. Instead of resorting to gadgets to fix her head tossing, the wise owner had an inkling that the mare was feeling pain.  If I only work on the area where the pain is presenting, there will not be relief.

This mare is competing very well at her first show as I write this. I will continue to help her keep her body balanced and pain free. I’m expecting great things from this wonderful athlete who just needed a little help to take off!

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