I believe that there are four main areas that are important when rehabilitating a horse suffering from back pain:
- Reduce pain
- Reduce inflammation
- Improve the core strength
- Improve suppleness of the back, which includes the multifidus, the suprspinous ligament, the longissimus dorsi and the fascia.
Reducing Pain and Inflammation
It’s obviously vital that you need to work with your vet and physiotherapist to address this area. Depending on the severity and your horse’s pain levels, having your horse’s back injected may be appropriate.
I’m not the world’s biggest fan of just injecting for the sake of it, but if it’s a short term solution to help your horse through the initial stages of rehab, then I’m all for that. My main advice is to use the immediate time after the injection to build the strength.
Improve Core Strength
If you improve the core strength, then the horse is able to carry himself better and reduce the pressure on the vertebrae and the joints. It also reduces the strain put on the legs, which will further prevent injuries to these areas.
Without any core strength, gravity is the predominant force and this allows the belly to drop and the back to become hollow, causing more strain on the spine. If the core is strong, then the abdominals will naturally hold a contraction and puts the back into a natural flexion. This opens up the vertebrae and stretches the soft tissues surrounding the spine. Tissues that can stretch, are stronger, more supple and less prone to injury…Winner!!
Improve Suppleness of the Back
A lot of horses that I see, have become quite fixed through their backs and to reduce movement within the spine they have learnt to hold themselves quite rigid. The movement of the bones, is usually painful as its rubbing the next vertebrae. We know that bone on bone causes pain, until the bone fuses and then it’s a lifelong restriction and limitation in that area of the spine.
The problem with this is its counterintuitive. If they hold themselves tight, the back goes into extension and causes the vertebrae to come closer together. By getting the back to stretch, the vertebrae open up. But it has to be combined with a strengthening programme.
How to Build Core Strength and Improve Suppleness:
Long lining – This is a great way of controlling the gait, balance and straightness of your horse. You have more control than you would on the lunge and can avoid unnecessary explosions!
Pole work – Walking over poles slowly either in hand, on long lines, on the lunge or ridden. There is plenty of options and variation that you can try to make this interesting. Raising the poles makes it even better.
Hillwork – Hill work is only effective if your horse is working properly. Your horse needs to be working from behind and over his back. If he’s not, then he’s just strengthening his shoulders. Long lining up and down hill could help you see whether your horse can work effectively or whether they need a bit more groundwork first.
To improve suppleness I really do believe the tissues need to be treated with massage, stretches, laser therapy and fascia manipulation. By doing this, you’re starting off from the right place. By using a RAMP registered physiotherapist they can show you how to correctly perform carrot stretches and back reflexes to get some elasticity through the tissues.
If you would like any help or advice with your horse and would like a physiotherapy assessment and treatment then feel free to contact me through the contacts page on our website www.thecrescentvetphysio.co.uk or call on 07813 704879.