Tag Archives: chiropractor

Back Pain and Your Horse

Do you know where the most common sites of damage to a horses’ back are? The answer is:

The withers and the lumbar areas. In other words, right in front of the saddle and right in back of the saddle.

Here is the typical scenario: your horse has acute back pain, so you give him some time off. The horse recovers from the pain. During the time off, if it is more than a week or so, the muscles of the back start to atrophy. You put the saddle back on to put the horse back to work. The fit, which was probably questionable to start with, is now worse. And the cycle of pain is again triggered.

Having regular body work done on your horse can help prevent the sad story above. Stress points and trigger points can often appear (and be taken care of) under my finger tips before obvious pain shows up in riding. Back muscles can be stiff and tight long before the horse starts to complain with refusals, bucking, or choppy movement. Massage and chiropractic treatments are as important to your horses’ well-being as good nutrition, training, and shoeing.


How Does Pain Affect the Body?

When something hurts, we (or our horse or dog) instinctively try to keep the area as still as possible. We move the rest of the body around that still point. When the pain is severe, we immobilize almost everything. This response to pain can become habitual because it works: pain is minimized. Mobile, flexible bodies become closed and stiff.

Healing deeply ingrained and restricting habits can be achieved with chiropractic, acupuncture, cold laser, and myofascial release. Massage therapy complements chiropractic treatments by allowing muscles to relax. When you get muscles staying in the right area, then bones will stay in their right place.

Myofascial Release is one of the best ways to
improve your horse’s comfort and performance. Myofascial release techniques will loosen restricted tissue to allow your horse’s body to work at it’s highest potential. Myofascial release, along with Stress and Trigger Point Therapy, is the best way to correct structural problems in your horse.

Fascia isn’t only found around muscles and bones, it’s connected to the brain, all other organs, glands, too. Restrictions in the fascia are in a hardened state causing circulation issues. So the muscles aren’t necessarily in a contracted state, but more of a distressed state and can’t relax or contract  properly. Myofascial release  allows for the rehydration and flexibility to return to the fascia and then whatever it was ‘glued to’ — a muscle, bone, nerve, blood vessel, gland, and/or organ — will have improved circulation and function optimally.

Correct massage will help move the bone by addressing the actual problem: the soft tissue (muscle, tendon, ligament). The bone is a slave to the muscle. It can only move if the muscle tells it to move.
And, it can only be where the muscle allows it to be.

If you move the bone, but the horse’s muscle is still tight, the muscle will pull the bone back “out of place”. Did you ever wonder why chiropractors schedule so often in the beginning stages of therapy? It is because the muscle (which still has a problem) will continue to pull on the bone.  By moving the bone often enough, you will hopefully change the muscle – eventually.


Massage for Injuries

When an injury first heals, massage can be essential for returning the body to its pre-injury state. Massage can also help with an old injury and the compensations and wrong patterns that can develop as a result. Undoing long standing distortions from old injuries will take more sessions of body work than newer injuries.

If left untreated for too long, muscles affected by injury can spread to many other muscles (and the way they move) in the body. When working on a new horse, I often find myself uncovering many layers of dysfunction, as each contracted muscle leads me to another. It can take several sessions to restore balance, and if the muscles have been very tight for a long period of time, it is very likely that the skeleton has been pulled out of alignment. Deep tissue massage and chiropractic done in conjunction with each other will be needed to restore symmetry and full motion.

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Treat the Neck of the Horse With Care

Many people believe the vertebrae in a horses’ neck lie below the mane, but they are actually much lower: they sit just above the trachea, or airway of the horse.  Make sure your horse is in proper alignment through chiropractic treatments and deep tissue massage since any deviation in the neck will affect breathing. If the first two vertebrae ( the axis and the atlas) are out of alignment, you will not see a beautiful top line, since these vertebrae help shape the neck.

Always be careful when asking a horse to ” go on the bit.”  Forcing the neck into a frame with your hands will create many problems down the road. Allowing the horse to find a natural balance through the whole body, rather than focusing on the shape of the neck in isolation, will save you and your horse much pain and frustration.


Does Your Horse “Camp Out”?

When standing, does your horse stand square, or do his hind legs appear to be trailing out behind? When trotting or cantering, does your horse feel strung out? The cause could be that the pelvis has rotated. This can happen when a horse jumps a jump that is too big for his fitness level. Also, if the horse lands with his feet out behind and the rider sits down hard at the same time, the pelvis can be shoved into a position that causes pain in the stifle, hocks, croup, lower back, and even the withers. Myofascial release and stress point therapy can reverse this condition. Hand walking down a steep hill will encourage the horse to maintain the position after it is corrected. It may be necessary to include chiropractic treatment if the condition is severe.

Should I Be Concerned About Hunter’s Bump?

The sacroiliac is a joint that attaches the pelvis to the spine. When the three ligaments that surround and stabilize this joint are stretched or torn, the part of the pelvis called the ileum slips upward. That is the bump that you can see along the top of your horses’ rump. It is common in horses that jump, but it should be treated before it escalates into a career ending problem. The ilium is often broken when you can see this bump. Lameness may or not occur immediately.

Since I work a lot with event horses, I have seen many cases of this misalignment. Often, treatment will consist of calling a chiropractor for several treatments (count on about 6 spread over a year), stress point therapy (the muscles of the gluteus must be released in order for realignment from the chiropractic treatment to stick), cold laser, ice when the injury is new and painful, Traumeel rubbed into the area, and myofascial release.

A note of caution: Young horses who are jumped too high for their developing bodies are extremely prone to jumpers’ bump. No matter how talented your baby (under 6 years old) is, it is better to develop that talent on the flat than to jump big fences. A horse I work on regularly ran 56 races in his career on the track, but he didn’t jump until age 7. He is now 23 and still jumping (with great joy!) weekly and competing in eventing. His bodywork, excellent breeding, and good care are partially responsible for his longevity, but I also think the fact that he did not jump until a more mature age worked to his advantage.


Case Study of a Multi Talented Horse

I went to watch the dressage lesson of a regular client. I noticed her horse was having a hard time bending right, and his right hip was much higher than the left. We scheduled an appointment for a few days later. The owner told me that the horse had had a chiropractic adjustment a week ago, but I checked all the obvious places, like his spine and rib cage, to see if I could find the cause for the bending problem first. Every bone seemed perfectly balanced and in line, except for his pelvis. He had what is called a pelvic rotation misalignment. The owner told me the horse had some wild play time in turnout, which was a good clue. If a horse slips, or bucks hard, or falls, there goes your chiropractic adjustment! I picked up the hind leg of the lower side, lifted gently, and held it as long as I could (this horse is big! a draft/warmblood cross!). I had the owner walk him away from me. There was an improvement, but not enough, so I moved on to looking for stress points. Bingo! I found a huge stress point where the long back muscles and gluteals meet. And diagonally there were stress points at the costarum, which is a major side flexor. The horse closed his eyes, chewed, and gave a big exhale. Watching him walk away showed a big improvement. He was not 100% square, so I will check him in a couple of days. It might take two treatments, but we caught the problem early. As for the bending issue: once the pelvis is level, bending becomes easy once again.

The photos are not great. Taken on a dark and stormy day.

Before body work

Before body work. Stiff and uneven.

After body work

After body work. Pelvis is level and he’s bending more.


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The Importance of the Sacrum

The word sacrum is derived from the word “sacred”. There are cultures and religions that still consider the sacrum the seat of the soul. The sacrum is located close to the reproductive organs and the center of gravity. It forms the base of the spine and the “anchor” of the hind end. (I will discuss the atlas, the other anchor, in another post). The sacrum of the horse is formed by five vertebrae. A balanced sacrum will positively affect the hind legs and lumbar area.

If you find your horse sensitive to the touch in his lower back or sacrum, or you feel his stride is shorter than usual, it may be time for bodywork. A refusal to turn quickly or jump will be the next set of signs that your horse is feeling pain in the sacral area.  You may notice an asymmetrical appearance to the hips, with one lower than the other, or a ” hunter’s bump”. Many people consider the bump to be normal for jumping horse, but it actually signifies an injury. Chiropractic treatment combined with sports massage can provide pain relief, restored movement, and prevention of more serious injury.


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