Musculoskeletal pain: Potential causes in horses

Pain is something that most horse owners are aware off and as owners we do worry whether are equine friend is in pain. Horses are very stoic creatures, in that I mean they don’t always show us when they are in pain. As a result we need to get good at reading the signs which were discussed in a previous post (Equine Pain: Are we missing the signs)

Can we as owners help reduce the chance of our horses feeling pain? Well yes to a certain extent. Below is a dicussion on potential causes of musculoskeletal pain in horses, which in turn may help owners to reduce the likely hood of horses experiencing pain or at least chronic pain.

Tack

Tack is a big area that most owners know can cause discomfort and there is a lot of research being conducted into the amounts of pressure tack can produce. Centaur Biomechanics have been doing a lot of research into saddle , girth and bridle pressure. The results are fascinating and illuminating.

Noseband pressure can be immense and quite a bit greater than saddle pressure. So it is really important to make sure all your tack fits. It doesn’t need to be expensive tack as this isn’t a guarantee it will fit your horse. If in doubt then make sure you get a properly qualified saddle fitter to check. Make sure your tack is checked regularly especially if your horse loses or gains weight.

Soreness from Exercise

As humans you have all felt what we call delayed onset muscle soreness. Where we exercise and then 24-72 hours later our muscles feel sore and stiff. Well horses potentially experience the same thing from hard bouts of exercise. This is not long lasting and with time will go, but it is something to be aware of.

This is something that can easily be solved by introducing massage post competition or after heavy training sessions. It will promote recovery and well being in your horse allowing you to train harder with your horse and reduce the chances of injuries occurring.

Another point to consider is incorporating recovery time into your horses training. This can be full rest or a light ride on a lose rein (where it is safe to) or a combination of both. Recovery time is when your horses body heals itself from exercise by doing this your horse becomes fitter. If we work our horses hard all the time without rest then overuse injuries and illness can be more prevalent and affect their ability to train and get fitter.

Trauma

A fall or impact can cause contusions to muscles. This causes bleeding within the muscle resulting in bruising, however due to horses having fur it is not always possible to see if swelling is not present. If you know your horse has sustained an impact injury then massage is to be avoided in the first few days. Instead hose or ice the area. This reduces swelling and the cold helps relieve some pain. In some cases an impact can lead to myosotis ossificans, which is where bone forms inside the muscle.

Trauma can occur to joints, this can be from an impact which can cause joint disruption. As a result ligaments, tendons, bone fractures and cartilage damage can all occur. Joints can also become inflamed from less minor injuries and osteoarthritis can also occur in joints.

Bones can fractures or crack from impact or overuse. If the horse doesn’t get enough recovery time then micro cracks (stress fractures) can form. Bones heel much better than tendons and ligaments but this is dependant on where the fracture is.

Tendon and Muscle Strains

Tendons are less elastic than muscles so often when the muscle is tight the tendon takes up the load and as result is more likely to get injured. Unfortunately tendons also don’t have as good blood supply as muscle, so do take longer to heal. By allowing your horse recovery time and having regular body work sessions muscle and tendon strains can be reduced considerably.

Bone Disease

Bone disease can be due to nutrition or genetics. If it is genetics then this is harder to deal with but as an owner nutrition is something we can influence. Making sure your horse has a good balanced diet will help reduce bone disease. Making sure your horse is getting copper, zinc, magnesium and vitamin A and D. It can be difficult getting the right balance so if in doubt then seek advice from a nutritionalist. If bone disease is genetic then your horse needs veterinary guidance to develop a plan that will help reduce their pain and impact on their everyday life.

Past Injuries

Past injuries can leave scar tissue, which can create stiffness and be sore. Having regular body work can help reduce this. Joints that have previously been injured can develop osteoarthritis. Again veterinary advice may need to be taken to help develop a management plan.

Ulcers

Ulcers can be quite prevalent and often a result of stress. Removing the stress, altering diet and treating the ulcers will help to get rid of them. Quite often ulcers can form due to chronic pain. So it is worth looking at your whole horse when combating ulcers.

Myopathies (muscle disease)

Myopathies are often put under the umbrella term tying up. They are either genetic or acquired later in life. I am not going to go into much detail of what they are but this can cause horses muscle stiffness and soreness. If managed correctly with exercise, diet and body work then this can be hugely reduced.

As you can see there are a number of things that can affect musculoskeletal pain and the above is no way all of them. If your horse is in pain then do consult your vet as soon as you notice any change in behaviour. This will help reduce vet bills and your horses suffering. From there a plan can be put in place to manage your horses pain.

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