Tag Archives: atlas

Does Your Horse Have TMD?

There is only one moving joint in the head of the horse: the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ.  This is a powerful hinge which also glides.

When the TMJ is out of alignment, a condition called TMD (the D stands for dysfunction) occurs. The misalignment can be caused by bits that don’t fit, riders pulling too hard, lack of proper dental work, tight nose bands, or an atlas (first vertebrae at top of neck) that is not properly aligned.

Tight muscles will restrict movement of the jaw. There are massage techniques to loosen a tight jaw joint. It should only be done if all dental work is up to date so as to not cause discomfort to the horse. I always massage the masseter (large muscle of the cheek) to help loosen the jaw.

If your horse is dropping a lot of feed, if you can hear clicking when he chews, if he is having difficulty flexing at the poll, have a qualified massage therapist loosen up the major muscles of the skull and jaw.


Identifying the Causes of Motion Problems

Barring an actual injury, many problems riders encounter can be the result of a muscle spasm in the horse. By releasing these spasms, the body can be restored to a correct balance (structural integration), tension will be relieved, soreness will resolve, and muscles will be restored to a healthy state. In this series of posts I will cover the most likely culprits that tend to spasm and affect the horses’ performance. Often, by releasing stress points and trigger points, a difficult horse will become sweet and compliant!

A stress point that I often see (especially in thoroughbreds) is on the neck, right behind the atlas (one of the cervical vertebrae). When your horse resists bending to the left, for instance, I will check to see if there is a spasm on the right side of his neck. At times there will be tenderness all the way to the poll. Even at rest, the head can appear to be pulled to one side. If you see your horse in turnout or in his stall stretching his head very low repeatedly, he could be trying to relieve the discomfort of tight muscles (the main culprit has a long name: rectus capitis ventralis).  It makes me so happy to watch the horse shake his head and stretch once this knot is released. There is often quite a desire to move forward as well, so watch out!

Can Massage Cure Spooking?

Sports massage can have a remarkable effect on behavior, as well as movement and performance. A horse who has a spasm in the neck, right behind the atlas, may spook easily because he can’t move his head enough to see properly. Once the stress point is released and he has full motion restored, he can see, and be calm and confident.

I was asked to come to a barn that I had never been to before, and I had never seen any of the horses. There were a few that the trainer told me did not like to be touched, and that I should be very careful even trying to work on them. One young mare in particular was led out, and everyone looked at each other and gave nervous laughs about how no one could lay a hand on her. I started by approaching slowly and putting a hand on her shoulder, which is not a spot that is targeted by a predator. I stay away from the belly, ears, head, and flanks to begin with unless the horse knows and trusts me.

This mare was very tight and sore on both sides of the neck, and in her left hamstring and flank. No wonder she was grouchy! She was sore and carried her head in the air. The owner and trainer could only see that she was a high strung, spooky, chestnut! And they were right. But once the spasms in her body were released, we all could see that she was quite sweet and wanted to be touched.

I had no problem (knock wood!) working on any of the “untouchables” at the barn. I left not only unscathed, but high on the endorphins that flow in me when I can connect with a beautiful equine athlete that accepts my help. When a misalignment is corrected, horses sigh, lower their heads, and want to be rubbed.

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