Treating Musculoskeletal Dysfunction
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Treating Musculoskeletal Dysfunction
Of all the concerns that owners contact me about in regards to their horses, musculoskeletal discomfort would have to be the most common.
Because of the diversity associated with musculoskeletal disorders, this article will focus on conditions that correlate with muscular dysfunction caused by soft tissue damage and compensation.
Because horses serve us very well and many, free from complaints, it is often an issue that is found long after the horses have initially experienced discomfort.
As a Naturopath, the aim is to work from a holistic viewpoint leaving no stone unturned so to speak.
This way we can try to find the cause and work towards eliminating any contributing factors and strengthening the body to ensure the weakened areas become healthy, supple and strong and the horse is no longer at risk of further injury.
There are several indicators we can look for when we are suspicious that our horse or pony may be uncomfortable due to muscle issues.
1. Fluid movement – when your horse is capable of transitioning movement with no ridgidity.
2. Lifting head in canter transition or from a walk to a trot.
3. Unable to flex without dropping a shoulder or hip to “cheat” the range of movement needed to flex. These horses will often drift across keeping their spine straight rather than to flex like a banana when asked.
4. Rushing – especially when riding in the arena, the horse will rush at the corners or will much prefer to canter. There may also be difficulty when performing slow rehab exercises.
5. Dull coat – it may be that your horse’s coat is completely dull. Alternatively the coat is glossy and magnificent…however on closer inspection you may notice a few dry patches over various areas. The dry areas can represent tissue adhesion, restricting the range of movement.
6. Cranky behaviour when approaching the arena.
7. Cranky behaviour when lunging which is also accompanied by rearing, bucking, pig rooting and generally unable or unwilling to lunge.
8. Osteoarthritis which in some cases may be present as bony changes.
9. Joint disorders affecting cartilage, ligament, tendon and bone. This may result in lameness or inflammation which will create
compensation of movement.
10. Hoof problems which cause the horse to compensate range of motion.
11. Tissue atrophy
You may have experienced one or many of the points above, or these may be something to keep in mind and make a note of when spending time with your horse either under saddle or in hand. You may indeed be spending time with a horse that complains very little and behaves very well. If this is the case, your horse is either suffering from no discomfort…or is working under duress.
If you feel that your horse is suffering from any of the above points, it will be worth contacting an Equine professional who can assess your horse and treat using modalities including Acupuncture, Shiatsu, Bowen Therapy, Craniosacral, Massage, Physio, Osteo, Equine Vet treatment….and the list goes on.
Your Equine body worker may use various assessment tools such as gait analysis, proprioception evaluation, posture assessment and palpation. In some cases however, diagnostic imaging may be required.
No matter which modality you choose, the result should be a horse displaying supple muscles and an improved range of motion.
While your horse may now appear to be physically fit and capable, this may be short lived.
The reason for this is because in many cases, treating your horse is just one part of the puzzle.
Because much time has often passed between the onset of muscular discomfort and treatment, horses learn how to protect the affected area by compensating with their movement. This causes much weakness to areas of the body which in turn initiates the risk of further injury.
To reduce this risk, a rehab program which focuses on slow movements will aid the horses form and control which will result in increased strength, muscle tone and proprioception (where the horse is in time and space).
If we ask a horse that has been suffering from muscular dysfunction to work in small circles or to be lunged, the brain will instantly tell the horse to avoid using any areas that have previously caused pain. This where you will see the issues begin to emerge all over again.
Start slowly and when asking the horse to flex, try this at a slow motion walk for only one stride.
When the horse is no longer protecting the weakened areas this can be increased to two steps and so on. There are numerous exercises to retrain the musculature (and brain) that your practitioner will be able to help you with. The trick is doing them consistently and not increasing the workload too early.
While many muscle injuries are caused by external trauma, many are caused by muscles strains and repetitive muscle strains. By working your horse correctly and incorporating exercises to strengthen the musculature, your horse is less likely to sustain an injury due to muscle fatigue and excessive straining.
Diet is another area that must always be considered. Excessive feeding where the horse is receiving increased digestible energy that exceeds the energy output will often result in that energy being dispelled in excitable behaviour. When the horse is not being offered a diet that meets the nutritional requirements this will also have a negative effect on the overall health of the horse including musculature.
Owners are always seeking supplements to maintain joint and musculature health, however unrestrained supplements will frequently negate the benefits.
Offering a diet free from nutritional shortfalls and offering herbal supplementation that will reduce inflammation and support joint health, along with bodywork and rehab will ultimately offer your horse the best chance of peak performance minus time out with muscle injuries.
Having this in mind, we formulated our joint maintenance formulas Move and Move+.
The Move was initially formulated using herbs that have been traditionally used to aid in the reduction of inflammation, to promote blood and lymphatic flow and to detoxify the body.
With so many owners having to then offer analgesics for horses who may still be suffering from significant discomfort, we decided to formulate Move+ which contains all of the benefits of the Move formula, with added analgesic.
Being a liquid extract, these formulas are absorbed in the blood capillaries almost immediately when offered directly into the mouth, or alternatively they are able to be added to a damp feed to be absorbed via the digestive tract.
With so much great feedback from owners, we are thrilled with the results, especially when paired up with the appropriate natural diet for the individual along with specific rehab exercises.
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