Tag Archives: ligament

Myo Means Muscle

Myofascial release: Myo is the muscle, and the fascia is the supporting tissue around the muscles. Myofascial disorders are the most common cause of pain, and yet, very few doctors or veterinarians learn about them.

Myofascial pain may develop from a muscle injury, from excessive strain on a particular muscle or muscle group, ligament or tendon. Other causes include repetitive motion, lack of activity (such as stall rest), or a direct injury to muscle fibers.

Myofascial pain is often treated with medications, injections, but massage therapy is a non-invasive, non-toxic alternative.  Therapeutic massage can loosen tight muscles and relieve cramping or spasms. There are many massage techniques used on horses, such as Swedish, Sports, Deep Tissue, Stress and Trigger Point,  all of which have benefits. In many cases, the elastic portion of the fascia is released with good short term results. Myofascial release provides long term results by  making permanent length changes to the tissue. By elongating the fascial system we can restore the efficiency within the muscles. This type of body work restores the natural abilities of coordination, strength, and power to the horse.



Understanding How Injuries Occur

The automatic response of a muscle to stress is to tighten. Ideally, when the stress (pressure, pain, strain) passes, the muscle would then relax. However, prolonged stress or pain can cause a muscle to tighten and maintain the contraction indefinitely.

Muscles are anchored to bones by tendons. The fibers of a tendon, unlike a muscle, do not have the ability to lengthen and shorten. They are fixed. If muscles lose their flexibility, the danger of a tear or injury to a tendon increases greatly.

Ligaments attach bones to each other, and like tendons, they are tough and non-elastic. In essence, the entire body is reliant on muscles being pliable to avoid tears and strains. Muscle strength and tone are important, but flexibility is as important, and often overlooked. Relaxed and supple muscles can be used more fully than tight, tense muscles.

When I work on horses I often encounter muscle spasms: painful, involuntary muscle contraction either in the belly of the muscle or at the attachments. A muscle in spasm is unable to return to a neutral, relaxed, and supple state.

Regular body work can help shorten the recovery time between workouts and prevent tightening up and stiffening of muscles.

The goal of massage is to improve performance by promoting mobility and suppleness in your horse, and to reduce injuries by reducing tension and strain on joints, tendons, muscles, and ligaments.



Rollkur and Its Effects on the Neck of the Horse

From Sustainable Dressage:

The shape of the neck is what is most visibly affected by riding the horse deep and rolled in since it is used as a tool for bending up the heavy back and/or off-setting the horse’s balance. The neck is very agile and most horses can bite their own chest, flank or rump if they make an effort. The vertebrae in the neck do not have the spinous processes that do those of the chest and back. and they work a bit like a chain, being very mobile in most directions. The muscles attach directly onto the vertebral bodies.

The spinal column of the neck does not follow the contour of the neck as seen from the outside. Rather, it is S-shaped inside the flesh of the neck. At the base of the neck the column comes out quite low. Then the spine bends upwards to be located near the top of the neck at the poll. It is natural for the horse to have this curvature of the spine of the neck, and though the curvature varies slightly from horse to horse it is basically the same. It can, however be changed through training or lack thereof.

Generally you can say that a horse showing a lot of underneck has a lower set base of the neck, spine-wise. It usually also has generous muscle bulk on the underside, but the two go hand in hand. If the horse has weak muscles supporting the base of the neck from above, it sags. The muscles from withers to poll take over, and the under neck stabilizes and stops the bulging bottom from protruding too much.

The greater bow of the S-curve at the bottom makes the neck shorten. In dressage there is much attention paid to the “arching” of the neck. But this is not an arch that one would want to increase, rather the opposite. The vertebral column of the neck should rather straighten than curve – the telescoping neck. It is the outside of the neck that arches in appearance. The bottom curve of the vertebral column lifts and straightens, the top part stays about the same, and between the very top vertebra and the skull, full relaxation of the muscles lets the head fall into place. The muscles around and in front of the withers help lifting the base of the neck, while they in their turn are aided by an active back.

In this way the shape of the neck is a good indication of how well the horse uses his back. The aim is to have the horse do this “topline stretch” both over the back and over the neck.

If you want to teach a horse to lift the base of the neck, straighten the vertebral column, lift the back and so on, the easiest and most productive way to do this is to ride the horse with a tendency for forward-down-out movement of the head and neck originating in stepping actively under with the hindlegs.

Now, I wrote tendency. It does not mean that the young horse should be ridden with his nose at the ground grubbing like a hog. No, a tendency for forward-down-out. The horse shall seek to stretch out but not actually do so. Rather contact the bit and stay there. The mere tendency makes this mechanism of lifting the base of the neck work. To begin with, there’s little, but the stronger and more well trained the horse gets, the better the effect. The topline muscles of the neck work at their medium length, and the muscles at the underside are disengaged. The head falls relaxed from the 1st vertebra and needs no fixing by muscles, but simply hangs by it’s own weight.

In 2000, Dr Vet Horst Weiler concluded his studies on illnesses in and around the attachments of tendons and ligaments in horses. In his studies, he found that 80% of horses used for dressage and jumping had injuries around the attachment of the nuchal cord on the head. Horses used for hacking, trotters, ponies, coldbloods, had these injuries much less or not at all. The injuries consisted of bony build-up on the site of the insertion at the back of the skull, bony nodules inside the ligament, mineralization of the ligament, etc. These are all the result of excessive stress and inflammation, because the body tries to reinforce an area threatened by rupture.

In an article in Dutch magazine Bit in 2003 Het Knikje – Overbelasting van de nekpees, Weiler’s answer to the question of what causes the overloading comes as rather a shock for dressage riders – It occurs when the horse makes the highly sought flexion in the poll in dressage training. Overbending, riding deep and round, or with the chin almost on the chest or behind the perpendicular is the cause of the problems, according to him.

These particular types of injuries are caused by a pulling,  torquing, or twisting stress on the ligament insertions. Now, remember that all horses graze, and they do it with their noses “on the ground”. But non-dressage/jumper horses had normal x-rays and skulls. Those horses graze too, so just stretching the head down is apparently not harmful. The sheering action on the ligament probably happens as the riders impose extreme poll flexion, curl their horses noses into the chest, and work them there repeatedly, for lengthy periods of time, or pull hard while doing so.



Can Myofascial Release Prevent Tendon and Ligament Injury?

Fascia wraps around every muscle, organ, bone, and nerve and connects every structure of the body from head to tail.  When fascia is damaged due to injury, inactivity, or trauma, it sets off a chain reaction that can compromise the nervous system, movement, and the flow of body fluids. Left untreated, fascia tightens like a  shrinking spider web. Frequently fascial pain will go undiagnosed since it does not show up on Xrays, MRI’s, or CT scans.

Massage therapists who work on fascia will feel for ropey or thickened bands of tissue. I recently worked on a horse who had thick bands around his throat latch that were causing breathing problems. In one session of releasing and softening the hardened tissue he stopped coughing and struggling for air and could resume his job as an eventing horse.

Tight fascia can also sometimes be seen as a ripple under the skin. When I work on a horse, I walk around them and look for places where the texture and appearance of the skin looks different.

Fascial restriction not only affects flexibility and movement, but also strength. Muscles will tire more quickly when they are restricted as they fight to overcome the power of the tight fascia. Tendon and ligament injuries will then be more likely to occur. Myofascial release can restore elasticity in the connective tissue, preventing many career ending injuries.

Tendon and ligament injuries are common in the competitive equine world. Because of the limitations that fascial restrictions place on the contractile elements of muscle, muscle strength is inhibited by approximately one third of its normal strength in the presence of fascial restrictions. So fascial restrictions not only affect flexibility, but also limit a horse’s inherent strength and stability. Muscles will fatigue more quickly because they will have to overcome the enormous tensile strength of a fascial restriction. Muscle and tendon strain is then likely to occur where there is fascial restriction. – See more at: http://holistichorse.com/equine-therapy/massage/409-myofacial-release#sthash.UXn2QpR6.dpuf


X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, or EMGs
X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, or EMGsReleasing fascia through myofascial pressure techniques, and with the cold laser on meridian points, can immediately restore normal movement and eliminate pain.

The Dangers of Soft Footing

My post of July 2 speaks of the hazards of too hard footing. On the flip side, in very soft footing the heels are prevented from performing their necessary braking action. This increases the risk of navicular bone fracture, and strains to ligaments, particularly the check ligament, deep flexor, and superficial tendon. A balanced and elastic body can withstand a lot, but it is best to avoid deep footing, especially at the faster gaits.

How Many Bones Are In Your Horses Tail?

Did you know that your horse can have anywhere from 15 to 21 vertebrae in his tail? Humans have 3 to 5.  The health of the tail is vital to the athletic ability of your horse. The bones, which usually number 18, are wrapped in muscle, and can become very tight and stiff. When tight, the whole back is affected, and movement is difficult and painful. Some chiropractors and massage therapists base their entire practice on a release called the Logan Basic. The focus is a point under the tail where the sacrotuberous ligament attaches. This release can give relief to the hips, the biceps femoris (which moves the hocks and stifle) and entire spine. If you find it difficult to lift your horses’ tail, and if it is not swinging freely during your dressage test, you can be fairly certain that the horse has back pain. I recently did the Logan release on a TB competing at the Intermediate level at Galway Downs in Temecula, Ca. I was thrilled to see his tail swinging loosely for the first time since I first saw him a few years ago.

Feel free to grab me at a horse show, and I will show you where the sacrotuberous ligament attaches, and if it needs to be released. (You can also schedule an appointment for me to come out to your barn.)

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.


Soft Tissue Law

Known as Davis’ Law: When soft tissue or ligaments are placed under tension, the tissue will lengthen. When ligaments or soft tissue remain in a loose state, they will gradually shorten. Over a 90 day period, if left in a loose state, 50% of strength can be lost. Reloading of tension must  happen gradually to prevent injury.

This can be seen in muscle imbalances, where one set of hypertonic, or over-tight muscles ,have shortened and become hypertrophied while their antagonists have weakened in response to their being overstretched. (i.e., a person with rounded or forward rolled shoulders will have tight, hypertrophied pectoral muscles while their rhomboids (overstretched muscles in back, will be weak.)
When one set of muscles is in chronic contraction, the antagonists, or partner muscle, will be weakened and shortened. What constitutes the right amount and kind of stress is extremely hard to determine — it probably depends on some genetics, nutritional state, ?. There is no conclusion to this article. When working with our beloved horses, there is a lot of guesswork and intuition as to how much to “Use It or Lose It” in their workouts. Part of my job is to find areas of imbalance and correct them.

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