Using therapeutic grooming for treating chronic back pain in horses

Do you have equine patients with behavioral issues? This could be a sign of chronic back pain, which can lead to a variety of other medical issues.

As an Equine Laser Therapist, I find that many horses have issues with back pain and their owners very often have no idea that their horses are dealing with chronic pain. If pain anywhere in the body is overlooked, the horse will be at risk for many other types of injuries due to compensation. Although it only rarely causes outright lameness, back  pain is a common cause of behavioral issues, such as:

  • Resistance to the bridle
  • Reluctance to engage hind legs
  • Tension/nerves
  • Spooking or bolting
  • Rearing or bucking
  • Resistance to saddling/girthiness
  • Head tossing
  • Heaviness in the hand
  • Problems picking up or holding a particular canter lead
  • Reluctance to go forward
  • Moving with short, choppy strides
  • Leaning or bracing against one or both reins
  • General decline in performance or attitude

Soreness can be anywhere from right underneath the saddle (which is often a saddle fitting issue), to the lumbar region of the back (which is often due to conformation and muscle weakness in that area, or from carrying tension under saddle), to the lumbosacral junction and the sacroiliac joint (which can be from injury, weakness, or poor riding.)

Treating back pain in horses

Pain in any of these areas can easily become a vicious circle… with the structures becoming weaker and more vulnerable as the horse protects them. As equine veterinarian Jenny Johnson says, “all the performance horses I work with, despite being in different disciplines, push from behind. They must be able to engage their hind end. If a horse has back pain, he is unable to do this very effectively; the pain makes him reluctant to fully use his body.”

Regular use of therapies such as laser therapy, acupuncture, and massage can be highly effective in keeping your horse’s back, as well as other areas, comfortable. However, these therapeutic modalities are not always easily accessible to everyone. Some may live in remote areas where they are simply not readily offered. Others may find that financial limitations make it difficult to afford regular treatments for their horses.

For those of you who may fall into either of those categories, therapeutic grooming is a great alternative that has been proven to be exceptionally effective.

The importance of a therapeutic grooming routine

Why is massage so beneficial? Massage increases circulation, blood flow, and nutrients. As with humane athletes, when muscles are warmed prior to work, the horse will have improved mobility and reduced risk of injury. After work, massage will aid muscle recovery. For soft tissue injury, massage can reduce swelling, relieve soreness, and speed healing.

When using a therapeutic grooming tool over target areas, one can effectively stimulate the horses’ muscles and increase circulation to a far greater degree than simply using the hand as seen in the photos below (increased blood flow shown in white).

Showing theraputic benefits of massage for back pain

other benefitsWhen gliding the tool over the horse’s body one can clearly feel the muscles relaxing and identify sore spots. The fascia can be warmed and stretched before doing the deeper work of massage on the large muscles. Caring for the legs using an appropriate therapeutic grooming tool can help increase blood flow and decrease swelling. This type of leg care is especially important for stall-bound, athletic, senior and injury recovery horses.

A horse can reap the benefits of massage through a simple daily grooming routine. It’s a great alternative to therapeutic modalities that are not always easily accessible, ensuring your patients are comfortable and happy.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here