Tag Archives: neck

Understanding How Cold Laser Works

Often, people with acute or chronic pain (low back pain, a sore knee, or persistent neck stiffness) will quickly turn to over-the-counter pain medicine for relief.  However, the FDA recently issued strict warnings regarding the misuse and overdosing of over-the-counter pain medications due to severe complications such as stomach ulcers, hearing disorders and liver failure. In addition, there is a growing concern among physicians regarding the side effects associated with prescription pain medication.

So how can low-level laser therapy help?  Low-level laser therapy (LLLT), or cold laser, is a painless, sterile, non-invasive, drug free modality that is used for a variety of conditions such as acute and chronic pain, post-operative pain, shoulder pain, etc.

Housed within the mitochondria, the cell energy manufacturer, are receptors capable of absorbing distinct parameters of light.  Think of these receptors like any drug receptor.  When we consume a medication, the compound is absorbed by the body and it locates a particular receptor, based upon its molecular design, and will bind to that receptor.  Once the drug binds, a secondary reaction inside the cell takes place.  

A similar mechanism is observed when exposing the body to a particular color of light.  During a laser treatment, the light will penetrate the skin and is absorbed by this receptor within the mitochondria.  Receptor stimulation with light promotes energy production, biochemical reactions, protein and growth factor synthesis, cell growth and proliferation and enhancement of blood and oxygen flow.

   The result – more rapid healing and relief – nothing heals faster.  What this means to you is that in just a short time you could be pain free and able to resume the activities you enjoy.  

Instant Pain Relief!

There is a whole new area of pain relief being offered in the form of cold laser therapy.  The uses for this non-invasive therapy are rapidly growing:  the  laser can be successfully used for treatment of musculoskeletal pain, neck pain, back pain, extremity pain, post surgical pain.  Literally in one minute you can have pain relief, reduced inflammation and muscle spasms while accelerating recovery.


The cold laser, or low level laser, utilizes specific wavelengths of light to interact with tissue.  Non-thermal photons of light that are emitted from the laser pass through the skin layers (the dermis, epidermis, and the subcutaneous tissue or tissue fat under the skin). This thlight has the ability to penetrate 2 to 5 centimeters below the skin.

There are no unsafe side effects to the cold laser.  It can be used on humans and animals easily.


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.



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.


Researchers Study Head, Neck Positions’ Effects on Muscles

This is a terrific and ground breaking article by Alexandra Beckstett. Finally!:

The physiological effects of horses’ head and neck positions (HNP) while being ridden is a topic of fierce debate. And until now, there hasn’t been any data on head and neck position’s effect on muscle activity, especially that of the muscles controlling these positions.

Kathrin Kienapfel, MA, a doctoral student at Ruhr-University Bochum, in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, recently evaluated electromyography (EMG, a tool that allows researchers to read muscle activity through sensors attached to the skin) activity of three major head and neck muscles when horses performed three characteristic HNPs: free, gathered (competition frame with head high, neck flexed, and nose in front of the vertical), and hyperflexed (with the mouth pointing toward the chest, or behind the vertical). She presented her findings at the 9th Annual International Society for Equitation Science, held July 18-20 at the University of Delaware, in Newark.

The three muscles Kienapfel and colleagues evaluated were the splenius muscles on each side of the neck that attach the neck and upper back vertebrae to the skull; the brachiocephalicus muscles that run from the upper limb to the back of the skull; and the trapezius muscles that attach the neck and mid back vertebrae to the shoulder blade.

In the study they used EMG to measure five healthy Warmbloods’ HNPs in both directions at the walk, trot, and canter, with and without a rider (positions without a rider were achieved using draw reins). Each horse performed, on average, 10 cycles (or 10 steps at each gait) in each position. The researchers compared HNPs between left and right directions, left and right sides of the muscle, with and without a rider, and between gaits. They found that:

  • There were no significant differences between ridden and unridden conditions.
  • At all gaits, the splenius muscle was significantly less active (e.g., working less) in the hyperflexed position than in the free position; it was most active in the free position.
  • At all gaits, the brachiocephalicus muscle was significantly more active in the hyperflexed position than the other positions.
  • At the walk, the trapezius muscle was significantly less active in the hyperflexed position than the other positions; its highest activity was during the free position. At the trot, muscle activity in gathered and hyperflexed positions did not differ significantly, and at the canter the muscle showed no differences between any position.
  • Only the brachiocephalicus displayed a difference between sides, with the right being more active than the left.
  • “In HNPs with the nose line in front of the vertical, the topline muscles of the neck (the splenius and trapezius) are activated/trained,” Kienapfel summarized. “In contrast, in the hyperflexed position a main muscle of the lower neck (brachiocephalicus) is activated/trained.”

    She explained that this is important because riders and trainers typically desire a muscular topline in their horses as opposed to a muscular lower neck. “The brachiocephalicus is also a muscle of the foreleg—it swings the leg forward,” she said. “In hyperflexion, because of the activation of the brachiocephalicus, you get a more pronounced, unnatural movement of the foreleg.

    “These results should be considered by riders and judges as an undesired result of an HNP,” Kienapfel concluded.

Leave the Head and Neck Alone!

Lena Wedenmark is a dressage instructor based in Wellington, Florida. I love this quote from her:

Do yourself and your horse a favor and stop trying to control his head and neck. Just let them do what they’re going to do, including coming up and out from time to time. Just because you’re doing dressage does not mean your horse has to first be round in his neck. His head and neck are the last part of the connection, and trying to pull him in is the very thing that sets you on the wrong path and damages your ability to learn how to ride. Work on yourself according to the rider’s training scale, and connection and control will come naturally.

Does Your Horse Have Hollow Places On His Neck?

If you can see hollow areas right in front of the shoulders, on the neck, it is likely that the serratus muscles of the neck are not functioning properly. Unlike other muscles that get tight and need to be loosened, the cervical serratus muscles tend to become flabby and do not contract as they should. The serratus muscles of the neck are like fingers that attach to these vertebrae: C4, C5, C6, C7. When they are toned they help arch the neck, bend,  and lift the forehand.

Sports massage is a fast and easy solution to the problem of serratus muscles that are not contracting efficiently.

Are You Getting Your Best Scores at the Extended Gaits?

The brachiocephalicus is the prime muscle for forward movement. This muscle starts at the top of the head and travels down the neck to the top of the front leg. When the horse is ridden correctly from behind, this very long muscle can do its job freely. However, if the rider has a death grip on the horses’ face, lengthenings, circles, and canter departs will all be hampered. The jaw and neck will be stiff. The horse becomes exhausted more quickly as it tries to move its legs without the help of the rest of the body. You can see the horse flicking his toes instead of lengthening his frame. I also see this in school horses who have inexperienced riders using the reins to balance.

Even when the rider is soft, the neck can still become stiff, especially after a lot of collected work.  Sports massage can provide relief, allowing energy to flow through the entire body.

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