Many riders tell me their horse feels off when they first get on, but works out of it. In some cases, this could be the sign of something serious needing further investigation. Soreness can disappear as the horse warms up, and then reappear a few hours after the work out. The reason is that soft tissue injuries almost always cause more pain when they are cold, because that is when the muscles are tightest. As the muscles warm up, they stretch out and send fewer pain signals. After the work out, all the soft tissue cools down and tightens again, often adding a few more muscle fibers to the tight area. You can see how, over time, this scenario can turn into more pain and escalate into an injury requiring a long lay-up.
Just because an injured area feels better after it warms up doesn’t mean that everything is okay. Stiffness and pain mean something, especially if they create a pattern over time. That is not to say that all muscle soreness is bad. Some aches are inevitable in becoming fit.
Sports massage for your horse can help ease soreness and pinpoint areas that are prone to tightness. Massage is helpful both before and after (after the horse has cooled down; I never massage right after a workout) exercise.
Massage therapy benefits the body in ways that most warm-up routines fail to do. Over time, select muscles may tighten and shorten. This greatly endangers the body, and unfortunately, an athlete is rarely aware of it until after an injury has occurred. A further benefit of regular sessions is that oxygen flow is naturally improved, which creates healthier conditions for muscles, optimizing body tissue. Increasing the flexibility in soft tissue can greatly reduce the incidence of injury.
What happens when your horse gets injured? There is the initial pain and then reduced blood carrying oxygen to the injury site. The reduced circulation then causes an involuntary spasm or contraction. The spasm helps create a protective splint, which is natures’ way of immobilizing the injured area. The spasm, while in some ways protecting the area, creates more pain, and therefore more spasms. Quite a system, right?
In the beginning of recovery, there is inflammation. There is a purpose to inflammation: it helps the body clear out damaged tissue and muscle fibers. Icing will keep the inflammation from becoming extreme.
New muscle fibers will form as the injury heals. It is crucial, once the body is healed, to keep all tissue, new and old, flexible and pliable with massage and gentle exercise. Cold laser therapy can help with healing damaged tissue, but spasms formed during the injury must be manually removed. I never massage a newly injured horse, or work on any area that is inflamed. Once time has passed, massage is essential to keep the muscles pliable and encourage circulation.
A body free of tension and stress can function at an optimum level. Muscles can move and blood can circulate freely. As a result, oxygen and nutrients are carried to all cells and toxins are eliminated. Freeing a body from tension allows the innate healing mechanisms of the immune system to function. Conditions such as arthritis, tendinitis, backache, neck pain, shoulder pain, digestive disorders, nervousness, headaches, sciatica and more, all benefit from stress and trigger point therapy.
Stress point therapy can be used as a warm up to prevent injuries. After a work out, body work relieves stiffness, pain, prevents tying up, and cramps. Sports massage at a competition is that ounce of prevention that may mean the difference between staying strong and preventing slight muscle tension from turning into a problem and a major injury.
Using stress point and trigger point therapy is a good way to take charge of your health and that of your animals. It is a chance to dissolve tension and tightness before it develops into something serious. My approach is to use the natural healing systems of massage to maintain health, and avoid, as much as possible, drugs with side effects and medical treatments.
Hyperemia: an extra supply of oxygen and blood, where it is most needed. A relaxation of the arterioles.
Massage, correctly done, can create a hyperemia that will last for hours, allowing the muscle to relax. Imagine how your athletic event could be with a horse whose muscles are loose and whose blood flow is free. Healthy muscles allow the athlete to reach peak action with less risk of injury.
A hypermia can be created in about 60 seconds when direct pressure is applied to a stress point.
First, I want to wish a Happy Birthday to my wonderful son, who is also a great athlete.
You have probably heard the terms: fast and slow twitch, but do you know what makes muscle fibers fast or slow?
Slow twitch fibers need oxygen to function. Slow twitch fibers require a good blood supply to deliver oxygen to them, and to remove the waste products that are created during exercise. They are the endurance muscles.
Fast twitch fibers do not need oxygen to work, so they are able to move quickly for a sudden burst of speed. They can only perform for short periods of time.
How many fast and slow twitch fibers a body has is determined by genetics. A Quarter Horse has more fast twitch fibers, which makes them good for sprinting. Draft horses have more slow twitch fibers and have great strength and endurance. Arabians also have more slow twitch and excel in endurance. There is controversy about how much the ration of slow to fast fibers can be changed through training.
I see part of my job is to keep muscle fibers spread and “unclumped” so as to optimize free movement.
A horse at rest should take around 10-20 breaths per minute. During intense exercise the rate will rise to between 120-180. A cool down is essential to allow the time the lungs need to release toxins, exchange gases (carbon dioxide) and take in fresh oxygen.
Make sure to never make your girth so tight that it restricts the expansion of the ribcage. Sports massage can help relieve stress and trigger points around the ribcage, which will allow deeper breathing. Massage also helps increase circulation, relax the nervous system, thus also allowing deeper breathing.
Lactic acid is produced in the muscles when there is a lack of oxygen. When lactic acid levels rise, muscles lose strength. A horse in good condition will pump oxygen to the muscles more effectively than a horse not quite fit enough for the job at hand. But the techniques used in Sportsmassage: spreading muscle fibers so as to increase the space that capillaries need to function properly, also helps prevent lactic acid build up by increasing the muscles’ capacity to oxygenate.
Most of my posts have focused on stress point therapy (where the muscle attaches to the bone). Today I’d like to talk about trigger points. When the spindle-like muscle fibers that make up the belly of the muscle shorten from injury or other stresses, the oxygen supply is reduced. When oxygen is reduced, calcium rushes in, but the damaged muscle cannot pump the calcium outside the cell where it belongs. A vicious cycle is established and the muscle can’t relax. At the core of a trigger point is a lack of oxygen. Correct massage to these trigger points can provide immediate relief from the pain and tension. Combined with correct exercises and posture, further damage to the muscle is achieved and further injury avoided. Remember: stress points are responsible for movement. Trigger points provide the power. Keeping both parts of the muscle supple will maximize your horses’ athletic capability. I will repeat: Prevention is always preferable to rehabilitation!