The junction where skeletal muscles attach to bone is an area of high stress. These are common sites of muscle injury, since when the muscle contracts to create movement, tension quickly forms. When muscles, particularly at these stress points, are kept at maximum efficiency, many injuries can be prevented. No sprain, strain, or fracture is simply a local incident. Anatomy tells us that ligaments, tendons, fascia, and muscles are woven together to form one system that acts and reacts together in the body. Regular massage keeps motion effective and reduces the risk of injury.
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.
I was inspired to write about the zygomatic nerves by a photo and article that circulated on FB and other media sites recently.
There is a muscle that starts at the corner of the horses mouth and runs up to the masseter (cheek). That junction is full of sensitive nerve endings that I often use stress point therapy on. When there is stress here the jaw will be stiff and tense. When the noseband and flash of a bridle are tight and applying pressure, a sensitive horse will be miserable. How often do you see a horse who is tossing his head, or trying to open his mouth, only to have bridle buckles tightened a notch?
If I massage a horse and it seems that every tight place has been released and the body is balanced, but the horse still doesn’t seem quite right, I check the head carefully. Because if your head (and we are no different!) doesn’t feel good, nothing feels good! You can help your horse by making sure the bridle is not squeezing anywhere.
Now that the show season is getting started, all of us need to be on high alert for a syndrome that can occur when horses go back to work: Exertional Rhabdomyolisis, or tying up. There are complex causes for tying up: nutrition, stress, chemical imbalance, overwork, etc. I will not address those issues apart from mentioning that a deficiency in selenium, Vitamin C, salt, and Vitamin E have been known to bring about an attack of the syndrome.
However,there are two stress points associated with tying up that I can work on offering relief from the extreme pain and immobility in about 5 minutes. The stress point affecting the hind legs is connected to the external oblique muscle, and the stress point affecting the front legs is connected to the posterior pectoral. When tying up, these muscles (and there can be others) contract and do not release. Using Stress Point Therapy and Myofascial release to bring back circulation will relieve pain, restore movement, and avoid permanent damage to the muscles.