If your horse has squeaky clean X-rays and MRI’s, does that mean the horse is pain free? You can ask the same question about your own body. The answer is, of course, no. If you play tennis or ski or ride or dance or even garden, you know you can hurt without being injured. The same goes for your horse. What surrounds the skeleton is of more importance than the skeleton itself. Until fairly recently, the fascia has been largely ignored by most health care professionals, and cannot be seen in standard tests such as X-rays and MRIs.
The body work that I do on horses is meant to alleviate the pain and stress of horse sport. If the body is balanced and symmetrical, then the body can move gracefully, without distortion. This restoration of the body can be done gently and thoroughly with a combination of myofascial release, stress point, and trigger point therapy,
Strains, due to injuries and accidents, get lodged in the body when a horse compensates movement during the healing process. Unless these compensations are fully released and realigned, they eventually become chronic strains that limit coordinated movement and cause pain. Horses need massage just as much, if not more, than any human athlete, since they have to carry someone on their back! The benefits of massage are the same for horse or human, with increased suppleness, better range of motion, and quicker recovery from injury. This therapy is so much more than a relaxation massage. It improves performance and longevity in whatever sport or casual use they are involved in.
My biggest thrill is to help an animal become pain free. They behave and perform differently. Their whole personality and energy can change. And the results of the massage can be long lasting.
The usual approach to treating sore muscles is to use liniment for a relaxing rubdown, or use a high tech blanket, or maybe do some leg stretches. And if none of those techniques work, what is next? Trigger points, or muscle knots, are small patches of contracted muscle fibers that cause aching and stiffness. When activated through strain or injury, they cause pain either at the site itself, or refer it somewhere else in the body.
Thousands of muscle fibers contract to create movement. Sometimes muscle fibers can tear, leading to tension, swelling, and heat. What may begin as a small numbers of fibers, barely noticeable, can become a progressive problem as the micro trauma spreads to adjacent muscle fibers.
Conscientious riders will be aware of the smallest change in movement or behavior and take action before the problem becomes a major injury.
When muscle fibers are injured, the surrounding area becomes shortened and tight. This uneven stress can be transferred through the fascia and cause additional pain and restrictions in other parts of the body as trigger points or stress points. My job is to apply gentle pressure until the restriction is released, and free movement and balance are restored. Muscle tension, pain, postural imbalances, and improved circulation are all benefits of stress and trigger point therapy. As Jack Meagher always said, “That is called putting your finger on the problem!”
Cold laser therapy works by altering or stimulating cellular function. The light energy penetrates, depending on the wavelength, and affects cells and blood vessels. The laser can block a nerve’s ability to send a pain signal to the brain, increasing blood flow or decreasing swelling. It may also significantly speed wound healing.
It’s noninvasive. When used correctly, it doesn’t have any side effects. It can be used weekly or monthly for pets with chronic pain, giving them better quality of life. In cases of severe pain caused by surgery or trauma, laser treatment can be used twice a day for a few days and then daily to diminish pain and speed healing.
Some exciting new areas of study for laser healing are range of motion, baldness, jaw clicking, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and stress. treating stress, anxiety and depression with cold laser therapy. The protocol for stress combines ancient Chinese medicine and laser technology that’s used on acupressure points to boost endorphins and dopamine. These chemicals naturally help your body reduce the physical effects of stress.
Lasers have been shown to speed healing time by about 50%.
The nervous system remembers the pain and trauma of an injury. With your horse, you might see this as stiffness at the beginning of a workout, or extreme caution. When a rider tells me their horse just “doesn’t want to jump anymore”, I suspect muscle pain and get to work looking for it.
Trauma accumulates in the body, starting at birth. Have you considered how much trauma there is for a foal during the birth process? The results can set up tight muscle patterns that last a lifetime, unless manually removed.
Myofascial release aims to relax contracted muscles, improve blood and lymphatic circulation, and stimulate the stretch reflex in muscles. Often I stand back after just one bodywork session and see that the body is already reorganizing itself. The body looks less chopped up into sections and more of one flowing form. During a session the body of the horse is educated in the process to move the way it is supposed to: in balance and without restrictions. If the connective tissue that covers every muscle, bone, nerve, blood vessel, and organ in the body is free of restriction, the horse will move and behave in a completely different way.
Myofascial therapy relieves soft tissue restrictions that cause pain. Some causes of chronic muscle pain are easier to diagnose than others: trauma from birth or a fall, cumulative posture misalignment , a compressed nerve from poor saddle fit, etc.
When pain is caused by Myofascial tightness the diagnosis can be difficult, as fascia restrictions do not show up on MRI scans or X-rays. Yet, those restrictions can play a significant role in creating pain and malfunction in the structure of the back and legs. Every horse (and dog and human!!) should experience pain free movement that can result from having restrictions removed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.