Chiropractic Care For Horses?
Chiropractic care is a
holistic approach to many of the health and performance problems of the
horse. Chiropractic does not replace traditional veterinary medicine and
surgery, but provides an alternative method of care. Chiropractic
adjustments have proven to be invaluable in detecting and treating gait
abnormalities and other performance-robbing problems in the athletic
horse. It has also been shown to alleviate pain in the back and neck of
the horse. Some nerve damage, such as pressure on the sciatic nerve, has
responded well to chiropractic adjustments.
How Do I Know If My Horse Needs Chiropractic Care?
There are numerous, common
stressful or traumatic situations, such as the birth process,
conformation of the horse, training and riding equipment, ability of the
rider, shoeing, trailers, or direct trauma, that can cause abnormal or
restricted movement to occur in the spine. This change in proper
movement of the spine is what chiropractors call a “subluxation.” When a
subluxation occurs, the horse’s spine loses its normal flexibility. This
results in stiffness, which further leads to resistance and decreased
performance. The most common symptoms associated with spinal
subluxations is pain, which can manifest itself in a variety of ways.
Horses in pain will show compensatory changes in posture and gait. These
changes can cause stress in other joints and muscles.
Symptoms such as lameness,
stiffness, lack of impulsion or power, in obtaining or maintaining
collection, poor mental attitude, gait abnormalities, being cold-backed
or cinchy, or the presence of muscle atrophy (wasting) are commonly
associated with spinal misalignments.
Subluxations may also cause changes in muscle coordination and
flexibility that affect the performance ability of the horse. These
symptoms may be lack of coordination in gaits, unusual and perhaps
indefinable gait abnormalities which vary from limb to limb and change
depending on gait, stiffness in lateral movements of neck or back, rope
walking (in-line steps), shortened stride in one or two limbs, inability
to engage rear quarters, difficulty flexing at the poll, or being “on
line” (pulling on one rein).
Common complaints from
horse owners include resistance or stiffness when moving to one
direction, irritability, decreased performance, and sensitivity to
touch, such as when being groomed.
How Does a
Chiropractor Adjust an Animal As Large As a Horse?
To answer this, it is
important to remember that the chiropractor is not adjusting the entire
horse, but rather a specific joint in the spine.
Initially, a complete
chiropractic exam is performed. This typically includes a case history,
including any previous veterinary work performed, posture analysis, gait
analysis, static and motion palpation of the spine and its joints,
muscle palpation, and checking for any changes in temperature over the
Once the initial examination
has been completed, the animal chiropractor will perform an adjustment
on the area of the spine affected so as to return the joints to normal
motion and to alleviate any muscle spasms and pain. A chiropractic
adjustment is a very specific high-velocity, low-force, controlled
thrust by a hand which is directed in a specific direction on a specific
How Many Treatments Will My Horse Need?
Several factors determine
the number and frequency of adjustments required to correct a problem.
The horse’s age and physical condition are important: young healthy
horses will generally require fewer adjustments than older horses or
those with serious health problems. The severity of the problem is
another major factor: if permanent damage has occurred, a return to full
flexibility may not be possible and multiple adjustments may be
necessary to achieve the most flexibility possible. The length of time
the problem has been present is also a factor: longstanding, or chronic,
problems frequently require more adjustments to correct than do acute
Chiropractic can also offer
valuable assistance to veterinarians dealing with lameness. The goal
here is to find the primary source of pain, rather than treating what
might be the secondary source. In equine practice, back problems and leg
injuries are often interrelated. An example of this might be an acute
lower limb injury causing the horse to alter his gait and carry the
affected leg abnormally.
weight-bearing and altered gait can subsequently overwork or injure
associated back muscles. Back injuries can result in increased forces to
the joints, resulting in lameness, or gait alterations in the feet and
legs as the horse tries to protect its sore back.
Unless the primary cause of
the back pain is detected and treated, most horses will have recurring
back pain when returned to work after a period of medication and/or
expertise in the evaluation of back and joint problems, that can provide
the veterinarian additional means of diagnosis and early treatment
options in certain lameness problems, especially conservative treatment
of biomechanically related musculoskeletal disorders.
It should be stressed that chiropractic,
in no way, should be thought of as a replacement for conventional
veterinary medicine, but rather as a valid, concurrent treatment
procedure for many back and lameness problems. And, as with any
health-related problems or conditions that your horse may experience, it
is important that the veterinarian be contacted initially so that he or
she can assess your horse for any underlying medical condition that
could be causing similar symptoms.
Why Is It
Important To Choose a Certified Animal Chiropractor?
The demand for chiropractic
as an alternative modality in the treatment of joint related problems in
animals has sky-rocketed throughout the world in recent years. This
demand for chiropractors trained in diagnosing and treating animals
utilizing chiropractic methods resulted in the establishment in 1989 of
the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA) by Sharon
Willoughby DVM, DC. Also established in 1989 was Options For Animals,
the educational division of the AVCA.
The purpose of the Options
program is to train, and ultimately certify, licensed chiropractors in
the art and science of animal chiropractic based on sound, fundamental
chiropractic philosophy, structural biomechanics, spinal and extraspinal
anatomy, and to provide hands-on experience, utilizing horses and dogs,
in developing sound adjusting techniques. These treatment techniques are
designed to provide the most benefit to the animal with the least amount
of associated discomfort.
The AVCA is the only organization
offering such an extensive professional program, and by utilizing an
AVCA-certified practitioner you are assured of his or her knowledge and