Chiropractic treatment is a manual therapy that can be used for many health and performance problems. When performed by a veterinarian, chiropractic adjustments can be used as a diagnostic and/or therapeutic modality for disorders that involve the musculoskeletal system of our horses. The goal of chiropractic adjustments is to restore normal joint motion, stimulate reflexes, reduce pain and restore normal muscle tone.
Chiropractic adjustments focus on the body’s structure (primarily the spinal column) and function (coordinated by the nervous system. The spine is comprised of over fifty vertebrae, intervertebral discs, hundreds of joints, blood and lymphatic vessels, and the spinal cord. For the body to function in its optimum state, the spine needs to move and function correctly. Acute and chronic stresses to the body happen during everyday life, riding, showing, stall rest and trauma. These stresses put abnormal forces on the neck, back, pelvis and limbs and cause spinal misalignment, or vertebral subluxation complexes (VSC) in chiropractic terms.
VSCs are areas of decreased mobility in the spine that cause nerve impingement and irritation, resulting in very slight (often unperceivable) neural dysfunction. The goal of chiropractic is to identify the VSCs and correct them through high velocity, low amplitude forces in specific directions dictated by the anatomy, also known as adjustments. Relieving the spine of any VSCs allows the nervous system to return to health and restores the proper biomechanics to the horse’s body.
By maintaining proper chiropractic care in conjunction with veterinary care, your horse will stay healthier and be at the top of his game. Please contact our office to find out how chiropractic could benefit your horse.
How do I know if my horse will benefit from Chiropractic adjustments?
Every horse will benefit from chiropractic adjustments since chiropractic is aimed at restoring health to the nervous system and consequently the rest of the body. Every horse, like every person, will have some areas of decreased mobility in the spine as a result of their lifestyles. These areas may be totally asymptomatic to the horse with no apparent soreness or discomfort. It is best if these areas are identified and treated before a problem arises. Therefore, it is important to note that although every horse benefits from chiropractic, the benefits may or may not be easily seen or felt by the owner/rider.
What are common signs that my horse needs an adjustment?
The signs of VSCs are extremely varied and many are asymptomatic. Some common signs include:
Back soreness: the horse is sore to palpation of the spine or muscles on either side
Asymmetry: it is normal for a horse to be better in one direction, although some of this can be improved by chiropractic
Hunter’s bump: the “hunter’s bump” is caused by the bony prominences over the sacroiliac joints. Its presence often indicates one or both SI joints are subluxated, particularly if one side is higher than the other.
Behavioral changes: refusals, girthiness, bucking, etc.
Gait problems: poor engagement, cross-canter, etc.
What is the benefit of having a veterinarian perform Chiropractic adjustments?
Although chiropractic care benefits every animal and has therapeutic value for many diseases, it is not always the best or most appropriate treatment modality. A veterinarian will discuss the animal’s history and your concerns before doing an exam. It is possible that a horse may benefit more from medical care than chiropractic at that point in time, and a veterinarian who performs chiropractic will be able to decide which treatment to pursue.
A veterinarian can also perform a detailed gait analysis before and after adjustment if indicated. Although the goals of chiropractic are traditionally centered around the nervous system, correct biomechanics are restored when chiropractic is performed. Chiropractic can improve some minor lameness issues since proper biomechanics are restored. It should be noted that by restoring biomechanics, an otherwise unrecognized lameness may become apparent. In that case, the lameness can be immediately examined and treated appropriately.
Veterinarians will often perform chiropractic and acupuncture in the same appointment. After an examination, your vet will determine which treatment should be provided first. Acupuncture works synergistically with chiropractic to provide additional pain relief and muscle relaxation. Chiropractic works more on the mechanoreceptors (touch and pressure receptors), and acupuncture works primarily on the nociceptors (pain receptors).
How is my horse’s leg injury related to my horse’s spine?
Leg injuries are often related to neck and/or back problems. When a limb is injured, the horse will carry the affected limb differently and put more strain on other limbs, neck and back. This can overwork the associated muscles, joints or soft tissues. Back, neck or pelvic pain can very well be first symptom associated with arthritis or soft tissue injuries and should not be overlooked.
The reverse is also true. If a horse does have a primary back, neck or pelvic issue, abnormal stresses can be placed on the limbs and result in soreness or injury.
Are there any additional treatment modalities used with Chiropractic?
Yes. The most common would be Acupuncture, functional electrical stimulation, pulsed electromagnetic field therapy and cold laser. Ask your veterinarian if any additional treatment modalities would be appropriate with chiropractic for your horse.
How are vertebral subluxation complexes diagnosed?
During a Chiropractic examination, every joint in a horse’s spine is motion palpated in every direction to determine areas of decreased mobility (VSC).
How many treatments will be needed?
The number and frequency of treatments depends on the horse and his or her response to chiropractic. Some horses will need a series of treatments initially (typically about once a month) before moving into a maintenance phase. The maintenance phase will also be very horse dependent, but will likely be every three to six months.
Can Chiropractic be used to treat other systemic diseases?
Chiropractic is typically not an appropriate primary treatment for disease, although it can be a very beneficial adjunct to horses suffering from chronic diseases. By restoring health to the nervous system, the body’s innate health can take over and some diseases can be improved.
Interested in having your horse adjusted? Orange County Equine Veterinary Services offers Chiropractic (and other services!) at local stables! You can also browse Equivont's other veterinarians and chiropractors to find one near you!