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.
My mission in life is to release tight muscles! But an important thing to remember is that a tight muscle is Mother Nature’s way of protecting an injured structure. Protective splinting is nature’s way of preventing movement around an injury, just like a cast. When a horse feels an extremely tight muscle, he will stay still. This is not always convenient at a horse show! That is why Sports Massage can be so valuable for the competition horse. A muscle that is massaged before an athletic event is less likely to tighten. It can adapt to sudden movements much better that a muscle that is stiff and in spasm.
When an injury occurs, whether a sprain, fracture, or dislocation, the muscles will splint the injured area by tightening the muscles. It is nature’s way of preventing further injury. Then, the horse, human, dog, etc. will compensate by using other muscles and a change of posture to cope with the change.In the short term, this muscle splinting is a helpful action. Once the original injury is healed, the body may not return to the original, balanced posture. So the protecting area starts the pain cycle anew, and the irritated inflamed and injured area continues to grow. This is called a positive feedback loop, where the process continues to grow. The cycle can be interrupted, and health restored by encouraging the tight muscles and tissue to let go of the now healed area. Proper posture and function can be restored through deep tissue massage, cold laser therapy, myofascial release, trigger point therapy, stress point therapy, etc.