Equine chiropractic care is a rapidly emerging field among veterinarians due to increasing demand from horse owners for alternative therapies. It is an art of healing that focuses primarily on restoring the spinal column’s normal movement and function to promote healthy neurologic activity, which in turn supports effective musculoskeletal function and overall health. Chiropractic care centers on detecting abnormal motion of the individual vertebra and its effects on the surrounding tissues. Reduced mobility between two vertebral bodies can irritate the nerves exiting the spinal cord, leading to decreased nerve supply to the tissues. This altered nerve function causes problems such as pain, abnormal posture, uncoordinated movement, overloading of leg joints, and muscle changes.
It’s important when considering chiropractic care for your horse to select a practitioner that has completed the necessary education so your horse will receive safe and effective treatment.
Veterinarians are often frustrated by horses with vague lameness but no specific localized pain or with poor performance but no obvious cause. Chiropractic provides another means of diagnosis and treatment for many musculoskeletal disorders. It can also be used to detect subclinical conditions (those not yet causing clinical signs) or abnormal biomechanics that may progress to more significant lameness issues. This is because disorders originating in the back can produce gait abnormalities and increase concussive forces in lower limb joints, leading to an increased risk for developing lameness.
Indications for Use in Horses
There are many circumstances where adding chiropractic to your horse’s health care routine would be appropriate, the most significant being signs of pain. Some pain indicators include behavior changes; abnormal posture; reduced performance; ear-pinning or biting when being saddled; head tossing under saddle; refusing jumps; difficulty performing lateral work or collecting; difficulty turning or working in one direction; sensitivity to touch or grooming; and chronic weight loss.
Other reasons you might pursue chiropractic care include musculoskeletal conditions that are recurring or not responding to conventional therapy; treatment following recovery from a significant lameness or trauma; and preventive or maintenance care for horses in training. Early implementation of chiropractic care following an injury will produce the best results. Chiropractic can be very useful for alleviating pain in horses with chronic issues but will not reverse degenerative changes already present. This therapy’s benefits are greatest when it’s used in conjunction with traditional veterinary care as a preventive approach to help keep a horse balanced and performing at his best.
The Chiropractic Examination
Each chiropractic exam should consist of obtaining a history of the patient and a physical exam involving these steps.
1. The practitioner observes the standing horse, watching for postural abnormalities, signs of discomfort, asymmetry, or muscle wasting.
2. Spinal analysis and palpation can pinpoint areas of heat or inflammation and/or any blatant structural abnormalities. The chiropractor palpates the back for any spinal asymmetry, spasmodic muscles, and muscle asymmetry.
3. Gait analysis is a crucial part of every chiropractic examination. Your chiropractor might implement traditional lameness or neurologic examinations to determine whether further veterinary work-up is appropriate before continuing with the chiropractic treatment. Chiropractic gait analysis involves evaluating spinal mobility and pelvic motion as the horse moves. It can help the chiropractor differentiate back pain from limb abnormalities.
4. Motion palpation is the core of the exam. It consists of taking each joint through its entire range of motion to determine if there is loss of normal motion or increased resistance to induced motion of any vertebral body.
Chiropractic care is not intended to replace traditional veterinary care. Owners with horses experiencing acute, significant lameness or injuries, acute neurologic conditions, fever, colic, or other medical disorders should seek care from their primary veterinarian first.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Taryn Yates, DVM, owns Active Balance LLC, which provides horses and small animals in Central Oregon with integrative veterinary care.