Horses head

Equine Physiotherapy & Muscular Back Problems

One of the most common problems we come across when assessing and treating horses, is muscular back pain. In our experience muscular back problems can present themselves in many different forms.

Within this article we will explain more about how muscular back pain could be affecting your horse and ways in which our physiotherapists can offer advice and support on reducing the risk of this type of injury.

Based on our expertise and as chartered physiotherapists, it is important to highlight straight away – if you notice any psychological or physical change to your horse, we highly recommend you contact us, so one of our qualified physiotherapists can visit your horse to assess and provide you with an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

What do we mean by a “Change” in your horse?

Often it is a change from the “normal” in your horse, which is an indication something could wrong, for example, if your horse is normally stiff to the right and he has started being stiff to the left. Below are some other signs and symptoms which could be out of the “normal” for your horse, or perhaps you have been having longer terms issues with some of the list below – All of which could be linked with muscular pain problems or back pain.

Signs and Symptoms – your horse could have back problems

  • Loss of performance.
  • Schooling issues, disunited in canter, hollowing in transitions, lack of bend, inconsistency in the contact, reluctance to engage and use hindlimbs.
  • Behavioural issues, bucking, rearing, nappiness.
  • Jumping issues, refusing, unable to take off when deep, rushing.
  • Resenting being saddled, cold backed.
  • Lameness.
  • Lack of straightness especially going down hills.
  • Dislike of being groomed.
  • Change in temperament.

Like humans, horses will tolerate levels of pain differently, so it is important to get your horses assessed and treated by a physiotherapist. Our overriding aim is to get your horse to be pain free as quickly as possible and enable them to enjoy working/performing to the best of their ability.

Even if your horse isn’t presenting any of the symptoms above, it doesn’t discount them having a back problem.  Regular assessments are the key to ensure your horse is always at his best.

Why do back problems occur?

The most common cause is trauma, i.e. falls, slips or getting cast. Horses can sometimes do stupid things especially in the field!
We find badly fitting saddles can be a major cause of muscular problems.  We would recommend you have saddles regularly checked by a master saddler, preferably early spring before the season starts, as this is when your horse is more likely to be changing shape as the work intensity increases. At Equine and Canine Solutions, we believe it is important for our physiotherapists to liaise and have good working relationships with your saddler.

Could there be an underlying issue?

In some cases, we find muscular back pain to be a secondary issue, with the primary cause being a problem with the limbs such as foot imbalance or joint problems like arthritis or navicular. Your horse will compensate for the limb problem and hold themselves differently through their neck and back, causing the muscles in the neck and back to go into spasm. The limb problem could be quite mild, so signs of lameness and the major problem presents as back pain.

Generally, with treatment the back pain may be resolved however it is likely to reoccur as the main cause of the problem still hasn’t been addressed. As ACPAT (Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy) members we work closely with owners, riders and vets to look at the bigger picture to help resolve the wider issues, for the greater good of your horse’s wellbeing.

Don’t forget sprains and strains!

It is important to remember that horses are athletes and like human athletes they will tweak and sprain muscles during their preparation, training, competitions or even when they are just “out and about”. We recommend these mild tweaks and sprains are treated early so they don’t develop into more major problems, which then require more treatment and time off.

How will animal physiotherapy help my horse?

Our chartered physiotherapist will use a wide variety of treatment techniques. These include manual therapies such as reciprocal inhibition, trigger points and joint mobilisations to release muscle spasm and stiffness. We may also use electrotherapies such as laser and ultrasound to promote the healing process and reduce pain. Our physiotherapists will also assess for any weakness and movement abnormalities which may make the horses more prone to back problems in the future. Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation can be used to build up weak muscle groups and improve muscle function.  We will prescribe exercise and rehabilitation programmes to strengthen specific areas and improve core stability to help prevent the recurrence of injuries and improve performance.

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Prevention is better than cure

As part of our service, our physiotherapists spend time with clients offering advice, support and most importantly ways to reduce the risk of injuries to your horse. We very much believe in ongoing client relationships, as the more we understand your animals the better service we can provide.  Please look out for our forthcoming blog on exercises and advice for preventing back pain and back muscular problems.

If you have any questions, would like some advice or to organise for one of our chartered physiotherapists to assess your horse, please get in touch or call 01829 272 301