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 ARTICLES > TTouch > CHIROPRACTIC: What You Need To Know
  TTouch  Article:
Article By: Dr. Steven Geldenhuys       

Raise your hand if youíve encountered any of these problems with your horse:

  • Stiffness or resistance, especially in one direction
  • Difficulty taking a lead or swapping leads behind
  • Reluctance to be saddled or sensitivity to the girth (heís ďgirthyĒ)
  • Unwillingness to round or use his back
  • Difficulty traveling straight
  • Bucking or rearing
  • Refusing or rushing fences

Before you call your trainer for help, you may want to call an equine chiropractor. Many of the things we call behaviour or training problems - bucking, rearing, refusing a lead, rushing fences - are related to pain. Chiropractic treatment can help, and itís a great addition to traditional veterinary medicine.

The problems that chiropractic treatment can help originate mainly in the neck, back and pelvis; but a sore back may not be the first sign that you see. For example, your horse may have a slight, difficult-to-locate lameness - heís not lame enough for your veterinarian to diagnose with nerve blocks, but heís not quite right all the same. He may be sore in his hocks or stifles. The traditional view is that hock and stifle pain leads to back pain, but in many cases itís the other way around: The pain originates in the back.

Performance problems such as those listed earlier may also be early signs. The temptation is to go to bigger spurs or a stronger bit and make the horse do whatís wanted. But remember that most horses will do what you ask if they can. They donít stand in their stalls at night and plot ways to frustrate their owners. When they resist or seemingly canít do what we ask, they are generally telling us they hurt - especially when the resistance is stronger on one side, as when a horse wonít swap leads left to right or always refuses fences coming off a left turn.

What Chiropractic Does . . .

Chiropractic treatment addresses these problems by restoring full motion in the joints of the neck, back, and pelvis.

Your horse normally has a tremendous range of motion in his spine and especially his neck - he can reach around and touch his hip with his nose. Trouble starts when injury, the pressure of a poorly fitting saddle, or some other cause restricts mobility at some point along the spinal column. Lack of motion sets off a cascade of events: The joints between vertebrae become inflamed. Tiny muscles go into spasm. Nerve signals may be blocked. Before long, the health of the joint itself begins to decline.

Joints are filled with fluid that acts like oil in a carís engine. The fluid lubricates and nourishes the smooth cartilage that covers the bone surfaces. As the joint moves, the joint is alternatively squeezed and allowed to expand so it soaks up fluid like a sponge. Without correct motion, the cartilage doesnít get enough fluid; it becomes unhealthy and begins to degenerate.

Chiropractic work doesnít reverse severe damage to cartilage, though it may reverse minor damage. By restoring mobility, it can promote joint health, prevent further damage, and help a horse who already has some damage feel better.

Chiropractic is helpful for problems that affect the neck, back and pelvis indirectly as well. For example, a horse on stall rest for a foot or leg problem will stiffen up from lack of exercise, and all his joints get stagnant and unhealthy. Chiropractic work can help him stay loose and limber.

Ö and What It Doesnít Do

Chiropractic isnít a cure-all. If a horse has degenerative joint disease in his hocks or other leg joints, this treatment wonít fix it. Nor will it cure degenerative spinal chord conditions. There are claims that chiropractic can help all kinds of internal medical problems - there are instances where treatment can improve the nerve supply to internal organs - but in general these arenít the sort of benefits that you should look for. Chiropractic work can help the horse feel better and perhaps heal faster, but itís not a replacement for traditional veterinary medicine - it should be seen as a concurrent treatment procedure for many back and lameness problems.

Red lights: Chiropractic treatment shouldnít be used if thereís any chance that the horse has a fracture in the spine or elsewhere - in a fracture, movement is the last thing you want. Once the bones are healing, though, treatment can help him regain full motion in the spine.

Fresh injuries are generally another hands-off situation, especially if the horse has a wound. However, in some cases, gentle treatment within twelve to twenty-four hours of a fall can be helpful in preventing stiffness. After that, in many cases thereís a period - typically days 2 through 7 - when bruising and muscle damage can make chiropractic work too painful. Wait a week or so; and even then, stop the treatment if it makes the horse uncomfortable.

The demand for chiropractic as an alternative modality in the treatment of joint related problems in animals has sky-rocketed throughout the world in recent years. This demand for chiropractors trained in diagnosing and treating animals utilizing chiropractic methods resulted in the establishment in 1989 of the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA) by Sharon Willoughby DVM, DC. Also established in 1989 was Options For Animals, the educational division of the AVCA.

The purpose of the Options program is to train, and ultimately certify, licensed chiropractors and veterinarians in the art and science of animal chiropractic based on sound, fundamental chiropractic philosophy, structural biomechanics, spinal and extraspinal anatomy, and to provide hands-on experience, utilizing horses and dogs, in developing sound adjusting techniques. These treatment techniques are designed to provide the most benefit to the animal with the least amount of associated discomfort.

The AVCA is the only organization offering such an extensive professional program, and by utilizing an AVCA-certified practitioner you are assured of his or her knowledge and training.

Dr. Steven Geldenhuys
(Certified Animal Chiropractor)
082 686 0184/ (011) 318-1901a/h

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