Horse Back Pain

Horses experience back pain.
But what causes it, how do you recognize it, and what can you do about it? Let’s find out.

appaloosa sway back horse

Horse Back Pain.

Poor health can be caused by back pain in any breed of horse. Understanding where the back pain is located is reasonably easy to do. However, discerning the reason for the pain is another matter all together.

Certainly, the diagnosis of Horse Back Pain can be skewed if the back pain is really a result of other soreness in the horse’s body. The goal of any pain management system is to reveal the primary source so that it can be successfully treated and consequently relieve the pressures to the equine.

Yes, it will take a veterinarian to make a complete and systematic evaluation of your horse.

An examination will start with your animal’s history and location. Your horse will be examined for pressure points as well as observing their gate. Blood samples, testing of muscle and tissues as well as other x-ray and diagnostic technologies may be utilized. You will find that the examination will cover all aspects of your horse.

In human medicine, back pain is considered misunderstood. Logic suggests that it would be even more difficult to diagnose and comprehend back pain in animals like horses. Not only is it impossible for a horse to let you know when he is feeling pain, but horses are so large, and their anatomy so complicated, that their inner workings may not be able to even be seen by modern x-ray or diagnostic technologies.

Defining Horse Back Pain..,

The potential causes of horse back pain can be broken into two groups - primary and secondary back pain.

The primary pain source is the point where the pain is being caused. The secondary source is the point where the pain has manifested due to another ailment within the horse’s body.

Pain can also be acute or chronic.

Acute pain is soreness which will generally respond to simple changes to a condition. Chronic back pain is soreness which is recurring over a period of time and is considered long term damage. Chronic pain is no longer just a symptom of the problem but is an actual illness by itself.

A few of the causes of Horse Back Pain..,

• Lesions in the skin, connective tissues, nerves, muscles, joints and bones in the horse's back. The most common cause for these lesions is traumatic injury, but these problems can also be a result of poor tack fit or issues relating to the technique of the rider which can actually worsen these problems significantly.

• An underlying lameness. Lameness in the hind limbs or any lameness in the horse's anatomy can result in horse back pain. However, because the limbs in the back are linked together in terms of function it is one of the more common causes. Common sense dictates, though, that if one of the aspects of the horse's physiology is not functioning in the right way, then the other aspect of the horse's anatomy is not likely to function as a consequence.

• A poorly fitted saddle - It is important for saddles and other tack to fit properly. A properly fitting saddle needs to conform properly to the shape of the horse's back without creating any undue pressure points.

• Bridles and bits - When bridles or bits are adjusted or fitted improperly, the horse may naturally resist the bit. This will cause the horses back to be flattened or hollowed, which over the long term may reduce his ability to perform properly and lead to soreness of the horse’s back .

• Sore or problematic feet including improper shoeing

• Poorly conditioned horse

• Muscle damage

• Injury or accident

• Damage to deep joint and boney structures such as Vertebral impingements, joint subluxations or misalignments or degeneration of joints.

• Spinal cord disease

• Holding muscles or structure in an unusual position for long lengths of time

• Dental Problems

Recognizing Horse Back Pain..,

As noted earlier, how a horse reacts to pain can depend on the horse as well as the level of pain it is experiencing.

Here is a partial list of possible characteristics you may see if your horse is experiencing back pain. However, this list should not be considered complete or definitive. You should always contact your veterinarian if you suspect your horse to be in any degree of pain.

• Reduced performance or reluctance to be handled all together

• Behavioral problems like bucking or rearing

• Soreness to the touch when pressure is applied on the back

• Resistance to saddling

• Difficulty shoeing

• Biting

• Hollowed out back

• Atrophied Muscle groups

• Restlessness

• Depression

• Rigid stance

• Flared nostrils

• Glassy eyes

• Increased temperature, respiratory rate, profuse sweating

• Alterations in weight bearing

• Head and neck in a fixed position

• A head bob (head moves up from the neutral position with fore limb pain and moves down from neutral with hind limb pain)

• Abnormal gain

• Changes in food and drink

• Change in social behaviors and outside stimuli

Ways to diagnosis Horse Back Pain..,

Because the horse's muscles are so thick and heavy, veterinary examination and diagnosis of horse back pain can be difficult.

The cornerstone of diagnosis for horse back pain is still diagnosis via physical examination of the horse both during rest and in movement.

This physical examination is going to include a look over the muscles, bones and ligaments, evaluating them for pain and palpating them, evaluating joints for their range of motion, evaluating movement while the horse is being ridden and without a rider, and ensuring that all tack is properly fitted.

Additional methods of diagnostics..,

horse skeleton

• Using x-ray technology to image the back can be difficult because the mass of muscle and tissue inside the horse can be difficult to penetrate if not impossible. The next and withers of the horse can be routinely x-rayed, but everything from the spine to the trunk can only be imaged using extremely powerful equipment for x-ray. Ultrasound technology can be used to visualize soft tissues present within the back, but even this equipment has limitations because it cannot see into the deeper structures in the body, nor can it penetrate through the horse's bones.

• Practitioners of acupuncture and chiropractic sciences can use specific techniques for diagnosis that can help to define problematic areas relating to horse back pain; however the effectiveness of these diagnostic treatments is controversial.

• Scintigraphy, also known as bone scanning, is also sometimes used to locate inflamed areas in the back, but it is a costly science and is not easy to come by.

Treatment of Horse Back Pain

Veterinary treatment for horse back pain first involves diagnosis from the horse’s history and location to the treating of any primary contributory factors like poor tack fit, poor riding technique or lameness.

The veterinary treatment for horse back pain is going to depend on what the specific nature is of the injury, whether it is acute or chronic and may include one or a combination of the following:

• Direct Injection of Anti-Inflammatory Drugs to the affected muscles, joints or ligaments

• Steroids

• Therapeutic Ultrasounds

• Physical Therapy

• Shockwave Therapy

• Massage

• Heat or Cold Applications

• Chiropractic / Acupuncture therapies

• And many others.

Things you can do for your horse (please ALWAYS use caution when working with your horse) ..,

Here are a couple of stretches you can do with your horse. These exercises are not meant to aid the horse who is experiencing significant pain. These are meant as ways to flex the horse’s back and stretch the different muscle groups in order to increase your horse’s flexibility and perhaps prevent future injury.

Please note -

These exercises are taken from KBR Horse Health information. For more detailed directions and more great stretches, please visit . And always repeat exercises for both sides of the horse.

Horsey Pushups:
Have your horse roll it’s pelvis by getting his hind feet under him in order to be able to efficiently push forward and have free moving joints.

• Find the point 2 points near the top and either side of the tail dock where the muscles meet.

• Scratch sideways with your fingertips. If you have found the right spot you will notice the horse tensing his loin muscles and lifting his back. If you have not scratch around until you notice the horse move.M

• Keep the session short. This is a lot of work for your horse.

The Carrot Stretches:
To help your horse to bend in a uniform and smooth way, it is important to think up exercises which will get the horse to move in specific ways that stretch specific muscle groups in a relaxed bend.
• Using a carrot, help the horse to bring his head down past his foreleg.

• In a second stretch, draw the horse’s head to his rib cage.

• In a third stretch use the carrot to have the horse rest his chin on his back.

• In a forth stretch use the carrot to bring the horse into a bow and bring his head between his front legs.

PLEASE NOTE: This web page is based on the research and conversations that we have had with various people and professionals on the subject of horse health and is not intended to replace veterinary care for your animals. We do not accept liability for errors or omissions. A vet, horse nutritionist or other trained professional should always be consulted with any equine concerns, or before changing any feeding or care regime.