Before alternative therapies started becoming popular, back problems in horses were issues that caused anxiety for horse owners and veterinarians alike. There were very limited treatment options available for back problems in horses, therefore these issues usually deteriorated and became the source of poor performance. Now, manipulative therapy is being used to treat back problems in horses, and these chiropractic-type techniques seem to have therapeutic effects.
Treatment with Manipulative Therapy
The goal of manipulative therapy depends on the problems that the horse is experiencing, but for the most part, is used to decrease back pain and muscle spasms, reduce stiffness, increase flexibility, and increase the horse’s range of motion, especially in their back. Ultimately, the best way to determine whether manipulative therapy is working on a horse is to compare the performance of the horse, as well as back motion, before and after the manipulative therapy has been applied.
Case Studies on Manipulative Therapy for Horses
A case study conducted by Kevin Haussler examined the efficacy of spinal manipulation on stiffness and trunk mobility in horses. It was concluded that it is difficult to measure whether the manipulative therapies were effective for back pain, stiffness and poor performance, but the study did positively conclude that SMT (spinal manipulation therapy) did increase flexibility in the spine in horses that were ridden actively.
Another study published on Cambridge Journals aimed to determine the effects of manipulative therapy on the longissimus dorsi (major longitudinal muscle) in the equine back. Again, the study did not have any conclusions for pain reduction or increased performance, but the spinal manipulation group and the reflex inhibition groups “showed significant decreases in walking EMG activity and muscle tone”, while the control group, which was not manipulated at all, showed no significant changes.
As a matter of fact, while reading through many different studies that have been conducted on manipulative therapies for horses, especially in relation to the back, most of the conclusions state that the weak methodologies for the studies and the lack of conclusiveness requires more studies to be performed to truly determine whether manipulative therapies are effective treatments for pain back and poor performance in horses.
Recommendations for Manipulative Therapy for Horses
TheHorse.com recommends hands-on therapy for horses, because it not only increases the human-horse bond, but it also helps owners notice any imbalances that their horse may exhibit in their muscle tension or energy. These imbalances are normally warning signs that an injury is present or impending, therefore these hands-on treatments are helpful in preventing injury. Additionally, when manual therapies are applied to a horse, the soft tissues are kept mobile, which also aids in preventing injuries.
In conclusion, manipulative therapy for horses is still in the beginning stages of being evaluated for reducing pain and increasing mobility. While more research should be conducted in the future, the results that humans have experienced with manipulative therapy and reducing back pain is encouragement for horse owners to try to apply different types of manual therapies and evaluate these chiropractic techniques on their horses. It may just be that there are specific manipulative movements that need to be used to decrease back pain.
In the meantime, manipulative therapies do seem to increase flexibility and decrease muscle tone and walking EMG activity. In addition to these positive outcomes, manipulative therapy also increases the bond and trust between owner (or trainer) and horse. Therefore, manipulative therapy is worth the time and energy that is put into further studies regarding back pain.