Equine, Horse & Rider, Injury and Rehab, Injury Management

Autumnal changes in your horse

Autumn definitely feels like it is coming and I don’t know about you but my horses are telling me about it. One of my horses Travis has always been very opinionated about the arrival of Autumn, quite frequently all four legs will leave the floor followed by a grunt to say “I am not happy about this change in weather”. He seems to get a sudden fear of dogs alone in the woods, which the rest of the year is absolutely fine. Do you find that your horse has any behavioural changes or perhaps physical changes other than a thicker coat.

Another of my horses doesn’t change his mood or behaviour but is showing more signs of back stiffness. The colder nights can cause muscles to tighten and present as sensitive or sore to touch. Your horse may be showing signs of being uncomfortable when being saddled. Such as trying to bite, dipping away when the saddle is placed on the back, pinning years back, showing the white of the eye, tossing their heads. The list can go on. This can be quite mild or severe.

The above signs can also be indicative of ulcers present but if this is sporadic and coincides with when the temperature drops it could just be some tightness or stiffness due to the cold. Horses sometimes shiver to help keep themselves warm or tighten through their muscles when the temperatures are low. Try and think how you feel when cold. Your body closes down your muscles feel tight and tired this is the same for the horse.

So what can you do to help your horse

Rug or not to rug!

This is always a difficult thing at this time of year. My general rule is to rug when under 7 degrees or if below 10 degrees and it is raining if not clipped. However if your horse has shelter then rugging can be much less if at all (this does depend on breed). This is a matter of preference but as owners we do tend to over rug horses. The only exception I have been making recently with one of my own horses is because he has been showing some soreness through his back and it correlates with the colder nights. As a result I would suggest rugging in this instance so that his muscles don’t tighten up. This could also be applied to older horses, who generally experience more muscle stiffness. A light rug or sheet would just help keep the back warm during the night and hopefully reduce the occurrence of a sore back.

Massage

It might not be your horses back but a hind leg or shoulder that they suffer stiffness. Massaging the muscles around this area before tacking up can really helps loosen up by increasing blood flow into the area. If you are unsure what to do ask your body worker or massage therapist to show you.

Carrot stretches

Using carrot stretches before work can also help to loosen and engage the core. Keep them gentle and don’t hold them for long periods of time. We want the horses to mobilise through the body rather than hold a stretch. This will create a horse than is ready for exercise. In hand exercise such as stepping under, belly lifts, pelvic tucks, walking backwards can all help as well.

Apply heat

The use of heat can also help. Use a heat pad or hot water bottle but make sure it is not to hot. Placing over the area that is often stiff will help draw blood into the area and soften the tissue. Massage will have a similar effect

Warm up slowly

When starting your ridden work start off in walk for longer asking your horse to stretch long and low before collecting them up. Get your horse to bend to either side while still on a lose rein. This will encourage lengthening through the back and sides, engage the core and mobile joints. You can carry this into a trot as well, once you have loosened the horse then you should find that their movement should be loser. You may find that lunging before ridden work may also help. It also allows you to see how your horse is moving and where they might be stiff.

Lateral work further into your ridden session can also help to loosen up.

Stretching

Holding stretches is something you want to avoid when your horse is not warm. Always think of dynamic stretches i.e. movement through a range rather than static holds. Static stretching doesn’t prepare the body as well for exercise as dynamic stretches do. At the end of exercise when the horse is still warm or through massage then static stretches can be used to help ease tension in an area. Again this is something your body worker or massage therapist can show you.

If your horse does show signs of discomfort on a regular basis then a vet should be consulted to make sure there are no other underlying issues. Always make sure you have your saddle regularly checked especially at seasonal changes as your horse can change shape. Lastly regular massages can really help all horses from field companions to top level competition horses throughout the year.

If you would like to discuss any musculoskeletal issues your horse is experiencing please do get in touch with Pollyanna by using the buttons below

Human, Injury Management

Lower Back Pain

At some point in everyones life they will likely suffer back pain of various degrees, some people more than others. Why this is, is not fully understood. Continued research allows us to gradually develop a better understanding. For instance 15 yrs ago the advice for back pain was to lie flat with a hot water bottle, but this is seen as detrimental and that movement does help back pain.

Causes

Back pain can be caused by many things such as a direct trauma, chronic overuse or an underlying illness where the pain is being referred from elsewhere. It is really important to seek professional help to rule out any more serious health issues if the pain is constant, non-mechanical and there is unexplained weight loss.

Causes of lower back pain can include the following

  • Fractures to the vertebra can occur due to direct trauma such as a fall or stress fractures brought on by overuse
  • Nerve root compression can occur due to disc herniation
  • Spondylolysis caused by repeated hyperextension and rotation
  • Spondylolisthesis which is the slipping of one vertebra on another
  • Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal due to bony changes
  • Labral tears and rim lesions in the hip joint can refer into the back

The above conditions can be diagnosed with relative ease and treated accordingly however the following structures can also cause back pain and are harder to diagnose

  • Muscle
  • Fascia
  • Nerves
  • Vertebral disk
  • Ligaments
  • Joints (capsule and cartilage)

In many cases lower back pain can be caused by more than one of the above structure. Sometimes the body can over react to pain and injury by causing muscles too spasm to protect the area, which does have it benefits as it prevents further injury of that area, however this increased tension can also cause discomfort and will need treating. Due to the involvement of multiple structures and the fact that these structures are more difficult to pinpoint in assessment does mean that when being treated there is sometimes a need to try a treatment and see if it works. It may take several alternatives before something is found so don’t be disheartened if your therapist takes some time to pinpoint the best treatment method.

Treatment

There are many treatments that a qualified professional can employ and here is a list of possibilities

  • Pain medication- in the early stages anti-inflammatories can be useful in helping to reduce muscle spasm and inflammation but after sometime it is thought that they can hinder the healing process. As a result caution should be taken when taking medication. A chat to a doctor can often help to decide what would be best for you. Something that is cheap and has relatively few side affects is ice. Ice in the early stages can reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Don’t use heat in the early stages.
  • Rest- this may be advised depending on the injury. A fracture for example, may require complete rest. In other cases reduction in volume, intensity or avoiding aggravating activities may be advised during early recovery with a plan to increase activity levels gradually.
  • Massage- a deep tissue massage and trigger point work can often elevate tension, reduce pain, encourage healing and increase mobility.
  • Mobilisations- these are gentle oscillations to a joint which can help elevate pain and reduce tension, which can help decompress and loosen joints.
  • Manipulation- is a high velocity manuaver performed to a vertebral joint to achieve the same effect as a mobilisation but often at a faster rate. This should be performed by a chiropractor/osteopath.
  • Dry needling/acupuncture- Needling is thought to help reduce tension and relieve pain. Acupuncture can also help with well being and energy levels.
  • Taping- Taping is not a sole treatment but something used to complement others. It is good with helping posture and proprioception. It can help with swelling reduction and relieve some pain. However research is mixed on the effectiveness of tape. Tape should not be something a patient becomes reliant on but a part of the whole process.
  • Cupping- this is a treatment method that needs further research but has a potential to help towards decompressing soft tissue such as fasciae and muscle. Using cups with movement could potentially be the most effective way to use cups. While there is not much research don’t be put off if your therapists suggests this as an option as you might find it effective. It does leave marks that look like bruises but the skin has not experienced a trauma like a bruise so they do not hurt.
  • Stretching- a therapist can apply some passive stretches or use muscle energy techniques which require participation from you. It encourages a muscle contraction and then relaxation to encourage lengthening. Stretches may also be prescribed to you as homework.
  • Exercises- This is probably the most important element of recovering from a lower back injury. This also requires commitment from you as an individual and is probably the area that therapist find the hardest to get clients to perform. I can’t stress how important it is to get your exercises done. You will recover quicker, stronger and are less likely to have it recurring. So please do your exercises to help strengthen muscles and mobilise joints.

Exercises

Some simple back friendly exercises to mobilise and strengthen

Shoulder bridge

The shoulder bridge is a good basic exercise to start with. Below is a link to an entry level version which is a good place to start. There are many variations that are progressively harder but start basic and gradually build. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2I8_VBJPGM

Key points to remember when doing a shoulder bridge

  • Engage your gluteal muscles (butt muscles) and deep core muscles before beginning the movement
  • Keep your pelvis level by pushing through your heels evenly
  • Don’t over extend through your back at the top of the movement
  • Remember to breath
  • When progressing onto leg lifts or heel lifts maintain a level pelvis and don’t let it dip

Hip twist

Is a great way to mobilise and stretch through the lower back. This exercise can be performed as a continuous movement or held at the end of your range to get a bit more of a stretch. This link shows the movement pattern https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONB4d84SXRc

Things to remember when doing a hip twist

  • Keep both shoulders on the floor and look the opposite direction to your knees
  • Move within your pain range.
  • Breath and take it slow, relax into the movement