Lameness is any alteration of the horse's gait, however can also include a change in attitude or performance, due to pain in the neck, withers, shoulders, back, loin, hips, legs or feet.
A general lameness evaluation by Tufts Veterinary Field Service includes a diagnostic nerve and joint block of the horse in order to systematically identify the area of concern by temporarily eliminating the sensation to specific segments of the limb, one region at a time, until the lameness disappears. Blocks can also help determine the required treatment for the condition.
The basic examination starts by watching the horse walk, trot and canter in a straight line, toward and away from the veterinarian, followed by a flexion test whereby the animal's leg is held in a flexed position for 30-60 seconds. The horse is then trotted off for its gait to be analyzed for abnormalities and unevenness.
Lameness examinations are routine in most purchase examinations. When the veterinarian evaluates the animal being considered for purchase, learning about impending problems can assist potential owners in making a more informed decision.
For performance evaluations, the veterinarian will also watch the horse on different harder and softer surfaces and utilize ultrasound to see if the animal suffers from any tendon or ligament issues. If the veterinarian determines a respiratory problem exists for the horse, endoscopy can be performed for further evaluation.
When a horse has multiple sources of pain, identifying the exact location can be challenging. Once confirmed that a horse has a joint problem, injections may be recommended to prevent further damage and provide comfort and relief to the horse while attempting to pinpoint the exact location of the pain. Steroid and hyaluronic injections can decrease inflammation, lubricate the joint and protect the cartilage for the long-term, particularly when treating arthritis after a lameness examination.
Tufts Veterinary Field Service offers therapeutic laser therapy for horse owners who wish to shorten the duration of an injury or illness such as a sprained tendon or strained ligament, encourage wound healing, decrease scarring or treat back pain. The laser stimulates the natural healing after muscle injuries and with tensions, loosens up the muscle so the transfer of blood is stimulated and the muscles are able to discard waste product more easily.
The laser can be brought on-farm by the veterinarian and is recommended once or twice per week, typically for six to eight total treatments. Laser therapy is a less expensive alternative to shock wave therapy performed in an equine hospital.
At Tufts Veterinary Field Service, Dr. Julia Wilkinson is Certified in Animal Chiropractic from the International Veterinary Chiropractic Association (IVCA). This affords owners another option for evaluating and treating their horse by an equine veterinarian who has completed additional years of training to provide a specialized chiropractic care examination.
What is equine chiropractic care?
Equine chiropractic care focuses on restoring the spinal column’s normal movement and function thereby promoting healthy neurologic activity, which in turn supports musculoskeletal function and overall health. Chiropractic care focuses on abnormal motion between the individual vertebra and the effect that has on the surrounding tissues. Reduced mobility between two vertebral bodies can irritate the nerves exiting the spinal
cord and cause problems such as pain, abnormal posture, abnormal gait and muscle changes.
How do I know if my horse needs chiropractic care?
There are many circumstances where adding chiropractic to your horse’s health care routine would be appropriate, the most significant being signs of pain. Some indicators of pain include; behavior changes, abnormal posture, reduced performance, ear-pinning or biting when being saddled, head tossing under saddle, refusing jumps, difficulty performing lateral work or collecting, difficulty turning or working in one direction and
sensitivity to touch or grooming. Other reasons you might pursue chiropractic care include musculoskeletal conditions that are recurring or not responding to conventional therapy, treatment following recovery
from a significant lameness or trauma and preventive or maintenance care for horses in training. Chiropractic care can also be very beneficial for older horses that have underlying chronic lameness problems.
What should you expect during a chiropractic appointment?
The first thing to expect prior to even looking at your horse is to get a full history including; medical history, use of horse, concerns of the owner and/or trainer and any changes since the last visit. After a history is taken the following is all part of the chiropractic appointment:
- Observing the horse standing, watching for postural abnormalities, signs of discomfort, asymmetry, or muscle wasting.
- Spinal analysis and palpation can pinpoint areas of heat or inflammation and/or any blatant structural abnormalities. The chiropractor palpates the back for any spinal asymmetry, spasmodic muscles, and muscle asymmetry.
- Gait analysis is a crucial part of every chiropractic examination. This is very important to determine if further veterinary work-up is necessary before continuing with the chiropractic treatment. Chiropractic gait analysis involves evaluating spinal mobility and pelvic motion as the horse moves usually at the walk and trot in hand and/or walk, trot and canter on the lunge-line. The gait analysis as part of the chiropractic exam is not designed to replace the need for a traditional lameness exam.
- Motion palpation is the core of the exam. It consists of taking each joint through its entire range of motion to determine if there is loss of normal motion or increased resistance to induced motion of any vertebral body. If loss of normal motion is found, then a quick thrust or adjustment is made to improve the motion of that vertebral body.
Who can provide chiropractic care?
Only an individual licensed in veterinary chiropractic can perform chiropractic care on your horse or any other pet. To become a licensed veterinary chiropractor, you must first do a veterinarian or human chiropractor then take additional training and pass a practical and written certifying exam.
Chiropractic care is not intended to replace traditional veterinary care. Owners with horses experiencing acute, significant lameness or injuries, acute neurologic conditions, fever, colic, or other medical disorders should seek care from their primary veterinarian first.
If you feel like your horse could benefit from chiropractic care, please call (860) 974-2780 to schedule an appointment! An initial assessment and adjustment will be performed, along with a recheck in 4-6 weeks when an individualized program will be tailored to the horse and/or rider’s needs.
Mesotherapy is effective in treating degenerative arthritis or kissing spines in a horse's back and the cervical vertebrae by reversing the physiology of these conditions to stop the pain spasm cycle. The treatment acts to stimulate the mesoderm, the middle layer of the skin, and is based on the theory of gait control of pain that originates from the dorsal horn of the spinal cord.
The Mesotherapy technique involves injecting a steroid and analgesic into the mesoderm of the skin using a special adapter to allow multiple injections closer together at one time. This is usually done over where the horse’s muscles are sore. The recommendation for treatment is typically once or twice per year.
A complete physical examination, lameness examination with flexion test and neurological evaluation and examination of a horse intended for purchase is a practical idea to help a potential buyer form a smart, informed decision. Referred to as a prepurchase exam, Tufts Veterinary Field Service suggests having the evaluation prior to purchasing the horse.
After the examinations, other diagnostics may be recommended as well, such as endoscopy, The X-rays of the legs and joints and an ultrasound, if needed. The seller will give permission for the veterinarian to examine the horse, however the buyer is usually responsible for the payment of the prepurchase and also owns the results. Ideally, the seller is also on site during the findings to discuss them with the veterinarian and ask any remaining questions.
In this manner, the veterinarian offers assistance to the buyer with his or her purchase without giving the final say.
To schedule a prepurchase examination, please call (860) 974-2780.