There can be many reasons for back pain in horses. While it is not our job as an owner, or even as an Equine Therapist to diagnose the causes of this pain, it is very easy for us to pay attention to the subtle changes in our horse's mood, posture and gait as well as responses during grooming and tacking in order to seek advice from the correct people to assist with our horse's needs.
Back pain in horses can be primary - caused by ill fitting tack, incorrect or imbalanced riding, back issues such as muscle pain, kissing spines for example. It can also be secondary; a response to pain elsewhere in the body. ALL limb lameness, regardless of how subtle, will eventually show in the back and body of the horse as they compensate for pain elsewhere. This can also apply to imbalance in the feet, even if the horse is not obviously lame.
Back pain can also be caused by tension or fear, the horse bracing through it's body and not relaxing over it's topline. Or lack of engagement of the abdominals, the horse's "core", will lead to the wrong muscles being used to support the rider's body. The longissimus dorsi becomes fatigued and goes into spasm causing the horse much discomfort.
There is also an element of pain and fatigue that comes with hard work and training! Whilst this should present very differently from a serious injury, we all know how it feels when we work out harder than normal, or try a new class at the gym. This pain is somewhat necessary for growth and fitness, and can be managed through various therapeutic modalities.
What can we do for back pain in our horses?
Firstly, you can rule out any lameness or other medical issues with your veterinarian. You can ensure your horse's tack fits correctly, and you are sitting straight rather than uneven or crooked on your horses back.
Equine massage is fantastic for relieving sore muscles caused by tension or fatigue. Whether your horse is in a hard training program, is ridden simply for pleasure, or is a retiree, the health of their back is important to their wellbeing. Increasing circulation into their muscles helps to keep them healthy and strong, and can help with issues like lordosis (sway back) and for those horses struggling with being above the bit and hollow. Massage can remove spasms, encourage circulation, decrease inflammation and along side gentle static stretching can leave your horse much more supple, relaxed and with a reduction in pain.
PEMF works on a cellular level, increasing cellular metabolism, creating a cascade of physiological benefits to the body; increasing oxygen and nutrients into a cell and assisting in the removal of waste products. PEMF essentially rebalances areas of dysfunction, putting the body in a more functional state to heal itself. Part of the process includes the decrease of inflammation, and the production of nitric oxide, both of which assist in the reduction of pain. PEMF has in my experience been a fantastic tool to help horses with kissing spines be able to return to work, alongside core exercises and correct riding to encourage flexion rather than extension of the spine. It is also useful post surgery, when the dorsal spinous processes have been shaved down to create space in areas where they were impinging.
Another useful tool for back pain is kinesiology tape. If you have ever had back pain yourself and had this applied, you know how this can provide support and pain relief to the surrounding soft tissues of the spine. Kinesiology tape here can be used to relax muscles and relieve spasms, to decompress tissue in areas such as between the vertebra in cases of kissing spines and sore withers due to pinching saddles. It can help to support the SI and Pelvis, issues here can lead to back pain. Kinesiology tape is great because it can be left on for a period of time post session, allowing the benefits of another modality to be extended after the practitioner has left. It is also something that owners can learn to use themselves, under the guidance of a practitioner, to help their own horses.
It is not just hard training, or health issues that can cause pain in our horses backs. During times of growth, horses can be out of balance and this can put stresses on their body while they go through a spurt, or their front end needs to catch up with their hind end! I've had much success with supporting young horses through these growth spurts and helping to manage muscle soreness and provide support to their growing bodies.
The therapeutic modalities offered by Restore Equine are not the only modalities available. There are many massage techniques (we are trained in several), as well as Chiropractic, Osteopathy, Acupuncture and Acupressure to name just a few. It may take a combination of techniques to manage your horse's back pain. Your veterinarian and saddle fit are great places to start!