The high-level preventative and recovery treatments that used to be reserved for horses in the strings of upper-level riders are becoming more widely available to competitive horses of all levels. As research and understanding of performance and recovery in horse sports improves, there has been greater use of treatments such as acupuncture, massage therapy, chiropractic care, and pulsed electromagnetic field therapy to help equine athletes with recovery and performance.
Acupuncture is a therapy that has been in practice on humans for thousands of years, but only in the last couple of decades has it started being considered an option for equine treatment. Modern research has aided in the determination of areas with a high density of free nerve endings, mast cells, small arterioles and lymphatic vessels that are called acupoints. By stimulating acupoints, acupuncturists can trigger a release of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, that affect different areas of the body. Acupuncture can be used to relieve musculoskeletal problems such as muscle soreness or laminitis but has also been effective at treating gastrointestinal disorders, neurological disorders, and many chronic conditions.
Massage therapy isn’t just used to pamper a horse, it can also be a useful tool in relieving pain and alleviating muscle soreness. Equine massage uses a variety of techniques and strokes to stimulate blood flow to different parts of the body. Different massage therapists employ different treatments, so it’s important to speak with the therapist to explain your concerns for your horse before they begin treatment.
Massage therapists can locate the sensitive spots causing pain in the soft tissue, often called trigger-points or muscle knots, and apply a gentle, direct pressure to help the muscle to relax, encourage blood flow, relieve spasms and improve the oxygen supply. Myofascial release (MFR) can be used when the fascia surrounding the musculoskeletal system is tight and restrictive rather than relaxed and soft as it should be in a healthy horse. Therapists trained in MFR can use a series of stretches and manipulation techniques to release the tension.
Many therapists will give owners “homework” in the form of beneficial dynamic stretches that can be done regularly to help with mobility and musculoskeletal health. Dynamic stretches are stretches that the horse decides how far he can safely move, such as carrot stretches. These are safer for horse owners to do on their own as the horse will stop the stretch in a comfortable position. While there is more concrete science behind the benefits of passive stretches, because these maneuvers require the human to perform the stretch on the horse they are often better left to more experienced professionals.
Chiropractic treatment consists of applying gentle force to different areas of the body to cause a therapeutic response. The chiropractor will watch the horse move and then examine the horse to determine joints with a reduced range of motion. These restricted joints can cause inflammation and pressure on surrounding nerves and soft tissue and cause the horse to use his body incorrectly leading to pain, uncoordinated movement, overloading of leg joints, and muscle changes. By adjusting the joints, the chiropractor removes the pressure, allowing the nerves to function correctly and the horse to move as intended.
Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy
Pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy mimics the naturally occurring electromagnetic frequencies produced by the Earth to stimulate, energize and heal cells on a molecular level.
PEMF therapy is used as a preventative treatment to prevent injuries, reduce stiffness and inflammation, improve circulation and increase the amount of oxygen delivered to cells. It is often used to reduce recovery time after training sessions and competitions. PEMF therapy is also used as a treatment for hoof, bone, and ligament injuries.
Therapies for Your Horse
Whether your horse is retired in a field or at the peak of his career, the advancements in preventative and treatment therapies are something to celebrate. Equestrians with access to these tools can better care for their horse in all life stages and will be better equipped to handle recovery from injury. Integrating one or all of these therapies into your performance horse’s routine can help to build a stronger, more comfortable athlete
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