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.
The muscles of the shoulder (there are two main spinatus muscles, the supraspinatus and the infraspinatus) control lateral movement and extension. When there is lameness in the front end, I check here first. If there is a knot, the horse will let me know by flinching. If it is a pretty bad spasm, his knees might even buckle when I put pressure there. In upper level dressage horses spasms in the shoulder area are rather common, since half pass and other lateral movements can create stress.
If a horse has been cast in the stall, this is also an area I check.
This particular stress point can take a few sessions to completely resolve. In the horses I have treated, 4 or 5 treatments have finished the job and the problem has not reoccurred.
These are some of the situations that can create pain and muscle spasm in the shoulder:
Being kicked or bumping into a solid object.
Horses going up a steep hill.
Walking or running on slippery surfaces.
Wearing shoes that do not provide good traction.
Making sharp changes of direction at speed.
I met a horse and rider at a 3 day event and the rider told me she was having problems with the counter canter in her prelim test. I found a spasm in infraspinatus and tricep (I will have a chapter on that muscle soon!). I worked on her horse, who was exceptionally cooperative, and the next day she rode her test with no problems at all. That is one of the many things I love about stress point therapy: the results are usually immediate.
The shoulder joint is the only one in the horse’s body that does not have ligaments to hold it in place. Instead, the joint is surrounded by muscles that hold it together and facilitate movement. There are three main muscles: subscapularis,supraspinatus, and infraspinatus. The first one is underneath the scapula, so not one I work on. The other two, the spinatus muscles, are very important for lateral work, and muscles I work on a lot. If your horse is displaying a shortened stride in front, or head bobbing lameness, there may be pain in one of the spinatus muscles. If your horse gets cast, the spinatus muscles often bear the brunt of the trauma, as the spinatus muscles are what prevent the shoulder from being dislocated.
Yesterday I worked on a lovely Holsteiner mare that I was told had atrophy (also referred to as Sweeney) of the shoulder muscles. I found two big spasms high up on the spinatus muscles and worked to release them. I will return to see how the muscles respond. Often, once the spasms are released, circulation flows freely and the muscle can regain health. This case might also benefit from cold laser therapy.