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.
When there is an imbalance in the alignment of the body, the result is aches and pains. The pains lead to a learned response from muscles to try and avoid the discomfort, further distorting the body. When I watch a horse walk, I look for all the clues that show which muscles are tight and causing asymmetry . The massage I do works to lengthen the overly tight muscles, and to help the extended muscles to contract in order to bring the two sides of the horse into balance.
Any repetitive motion creates muscle and tissue shortening. Eventually the torso becomes crooked, which creates restrictions and pain. What I do is a number of techniques to release muscle shortening , spasms ,and adhesions that may have occurred as a result of injury. To lengthen tissue, to restore length of motion, is my goal with each equine athlete.
Many people give their horse time off when it shows signs of muscle soreness or tension. Rest is important, but if there are knots in the muscle fibers, they will still be there no matter how much rest the horse has. Those knots have to be manually removed. You will see the results immediately, as your horse moves with a new fluidity.
Recently, a solid little client of mine, who has never been injured or lame, had a very tough trailer ride in bad weather, and was slightly off as a result. When I went to work on him, his entire right side, especially the hind end, was tight and sore. It took about 5 minutes for him to feel some relief, and in 40 minutes he marched out of the cross ties with a purpose (he was hungry) and spring in his step. After a snack he was tacked up and ridden and his forward march continued throughout the ride. He continues to stay sound.
I used several techniques, including manipulating muscle (myo) trigger points and connecting tissues (fascial), stress point therapy, and trigger point therapy.
Three days later I went to work on another horse that had gone to the same show in the same storm. He is 4 hands taller than the first one, but had the same soreness on the right side of his body. It took about 40 minutes for me to release all the spasms and sore spots. I suggested to both owners that canter to the left would help stretch out the right side of the horse. Interestingly enough, the owner of the second horse turned her horse out in the pasture after a few carrot stretches. He rolled, jumped up, and cantered a few circles to the left, before disappearing with his herd over the hill. A very happy sight!
Movement is an essential part of life, and all movement comes from the contraction and then relaxation of muscle. All motion: walking, breathing, eating, sitting, is a result of muscular activity. Even the beating of our heart is produced by muscle function. The ability of a muscle to shorten and then to be stretched, and the elasticity to return to its normal shape after those actions, determines how successful an athlete (whether 2 legged or 4 legged) will be.
Between 40% and 50% of a person’s body is muscle. Horses muscles make up about 60% of their body weight. Problems with muscles are not always obvious. Sometimes you will only see a change in posture or mood.
Massage can be used to prevent injury as well as to assist the body repair muscle fibers that have been damaged. Often muscles will the first indication there is something wrong and that a more serious injury is imminent. A muscle contains many fibers and as it contracts and relaxes some of these muscle fibers can become stuck and form a spasm.
The longer a muscle spasm is left unattended, the harder it is to remove. Regular body work is some of the best insurance to keep yourself and your horse partner in peak performance shape.
When I’m working on a horse, I often show the owner a spasm. How can you tell if the horse is twitching from a spasm, or just the touch, or a fly? When it is flies or a light touch that the horse is responding to, only the skin will flicker. When it is a stress point, or trigger point, the horse will often lean into my hands or fingers. The twitching will continue when I apply pressure for about a minute until the spasm is released.
Don’t worry about pronouncing the name of this muscle: tensor fascia latae. But if you notice that your horse is throwing his hind leg out instead of tracking under, it could be that this stress point is in spasm. (No. 7 in the diagram). The tensor fascia latae flexes the hip and extends the stifle. It also is very active in lateral work, so when you feel resistance there, it may be time for some body work. This muscle does not get as much blood supply as a more fibrous muscle, so it is prone to getting tight. The tensor fascia latae works in partnership with the semitendinosus, so a balance between the two muscles is crucial for even and free movement.