The Run Down on Equine Chiropractic Care

Energy Equine Veterinary Services is proud to offer a team approach to equine wellness. At Energy Equine our practice embraces various modalities to treat your equine athlete. Equine chiropractic care is one of the services that we proudly offer through the clinic. So often we hear misconceptions and misunderstandings about chiropractic care for equine athletes. Today, the EE blog delves into what chiropractic therapy is, what clients should expect throughout the treatment process, as well as who should be treating your horse.

Dr. Kasara Toth of Energy Equine performs a chiropractic treatment on a client horse.

What is Chiropractic?

The practice of chiropractic therapy focuses on the relationship between the structure of the vertebral column and the function of the nervous system and how this relationship affects health. Your horse’s vertebral (spinal) column is comprised of five groups of vertebrae (joints). The neck area has seven vertebrae, the back has eighteen, the lumbar area has six, the sacrum has five and the coccygeal region into the horse’s tail has between fifteen and twenty. The vertebrae surround and protect the spinal cord through which the nerves of the central nervous system travel from the brain to control bodily functions below the horse’s head. When lesions or restrictions appear they interfere with the flow of information through the central nervous system. This, in turn, can result in pain and inflammation in surrounding tissue and even neurologic consequences. This is where trained chiropractors come in.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) lists chiropractic as “a form of manual therapy that uses controlled forces applied to specific joints or anatomic areas to cause a healing response. This response is due to changes in joint structures, muscle function and neurologic reflexes. The principle common to all chiropractic theories is that joint malfunction affects the normal neurological balance found in healthy individuals.”

Many of us have probably heard that chiropractic care is needed when “there is a bone out of place”, but the AAEP says this is an outdated term, and is not supported by current spinal research. Instead, put in simple terms, we should think of our horses needing chiropractic care as a holistic approach to wellness. When healing is applied to one area, like a restricted joint, and that joint regains movement due to the controlled force applied by a trained chiropractor, the muscle and neurological areas associated with that joint should reap the benefits as well.

Why Chiropractic?

The goals of chiropractic treatment is to restore normal range of motion to a joint, stimulate nerve reflexes and reduce pain and abnormally increased muscle tone.

Chiropractic treatments can be used to target chronic musculoskeletal problems, acute problems such as tension and stiffness, maintaining soundness in older animals and as a complementary treatment for chronic lameness such as bone spavin, navicular syndrome or tendon problems. Performance horses can benefit greatly from chiropractic treatments as it can assist in maintaining fitness by helping manage muscular, joint and neurological portions of common injuries associated with the rigorous training programs so many of our equine athletes are under.

As an equine owner there are a myriad of symptoms you can observe in your equine athlete that chiropractic care may be able to treat. Horses that are suffering from back or neck pain and localized or regional joint pain can benefit from chiropractic care. If your horse is suffering from poor performance or an altered gait that is not associated with obvious lameness, chiropractic care may be the answer to get them back to a functioning state. Horse owners may also observe stiffness, problems with collection, changes in posture, disobedience, reduced flexion, a cold-back (bucking), sensitivity to the girth area, reduced muscle tone and behavioural changes.

Chiropractic care is most effective in early clinical stages of pain and disease, and utilizing chiropractic treatments as a regular part of your equine athlete’s performance maintenance plan can help restore normal muscle and skeletal function before injury occurs.

Chiropractic Treatment

When you bring your horse to your veterinarian for chiropractic care they will start by a physical examination. They will palpate for muscle or skeletal pain and observe any abnormally increased muscle tone. Your veterinarian will then ask you to walk, and perhaps trot and lope your horse, to examine their range of motion and determine whether or not they have any restricted areas of motion. From there, they will apply the controlled force discussed above to any areas they have observed that need manipulation.

Most of you reading this will have gone to a chiropractor at some point in your life, and are familiar with the popping sounds that come with being adjusted. Our horses are no different. During a chiropractic session you may hear a popping sound as your veterinarian works on your horse. This sound occurs when the applied force overcomes the joint’s resistance and signals a successful adjustment. It means that a “release” or movement of the restricted joint has occurred.

The manipulations may at first worry your horse, but most often we see horses relax and enjoy the treatments as they become used to the veterinarian working on them.

What Qualifies a Great Chiropractor?

The manipulation of a horse’s skeletal system is quite obviously something that should only be done by a professional veterinarian that has been trained in chiropractic care. So often we see horse owners trying to treat the symptom and not the cause. A practicing veterinarian will be able to diagnose your horse’s issues and look at the whole picture of health and wellness. Chiropractic care does not replace traditional veterinary medicine, however, it can provide additional means of diagnosis and treatment options for spinal and musculoskeletal disorders.

For example, a sore back may benefit greatly from chiropractic care, or it may be better managed by other traditional veterinary treatments, such as injections. Perhaps both treatments can be used to alleviate the pain your horse may be feeling, but only a trained veterinarian can properly assess and diagnose these issues and then build the proper treatment plan.

Our own Dr. Kasara Toth holds her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, and a special interest in sports medicine and the equine athlete resulted in her undergoing additional equine chiropractic certification from the International Veterinary Chiropractic Association (IVCA). Membership to the IVCA is only granted to qualified veterinarians or chiropractors upon successful completion of approved veterinary chiropractic postgraduate training, successful completion of the IVCA certification exam and adherence to IVCA’s membership rules and regulations. To ensure the development of the veterinary chiropractic profession, the IVCA requires members and holders of IVCA certification in animal chiropractic to undertake regular continuing professional development and supports and encourages research in associated fields.

Contact the clinic today for any questions you may have regarding chiropractic care for our equine athletes and for more information about booking a chiropractic treatment session.

Energy Equine Veterinary Services is a leading edge veterinary clinic and premier veterinary facility, located in Airdrie, Alberta that serves Western Canada and beyond. Energy Equine has a specific interest in equine sports medicine and treats top tier equine athletes in all Western and English disciplines. A team of focused and driven veterinarians, along with exceptional veterinary technicians and support staff, means that outstanding service is first and foremost to all who walk through the Energy Equine doors. 
At Energy Equine, our slogan is #StartStrongFinishStronger, and truly, that is the ethos of the veterinary practice. In areas of repair, conditioning, development and recovery, Energy Equine assesses the complete structure of the horse so that perfect balance can be achieved. The ability to apply new and cutting edge healing technologies to equine athletes, and then watch the athlete recover from a performance limiting injury and continue to successfully compete is what Energy Equine is passionate about, and what we love to do.
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