Chiropractic care is a manual therapy, which can be used by many health and performance problems. Chiropractic focuses on the biomechanics dysfunction of the spine and its effect on the entire nervous system though out the body. Chiropractic treatment does not replace traditional veterinary medicine; however, it can provide additional means of diagnosis and treatment options for spinal problems as well as biomechanical related musculoskeletal disorders. Chiropractic can often eliminate the source of acute or chronic pain syndromes.
The horses’ spine consists of bones called vertebrae. It is made up of 7 cervical vertebrae, 18 thoracic vertebrae (that connect with the ribs), 6 lumbar vertebrae, 5 sacral vertebrae (which are fused and called the sacrum) and 16-18 coccygeal vertebrae. Where one vertebrae connects with another is called a joint. There are approximately 200 joints in the horses’ spine. Joints are help together by a vast number of ligaments. A horse’s spine is a very complex structure consisting of bones, ligaments, muscles and nerves. It fulfills various functions in the body providing: a framework of support, attachment for many muscles, protection of the spinal cord and protection of internal organs. Numerous muscles are attached to the vertebrae enabling the spine to move. Even though individual vertebral joints have very little mobility, the back and neck as a whole is very flexible. Without this flexibility a horse cannot move fluently, jump obstacles or perform properly. The spinal cord runs through the vertebral canal in the center of the vertebrae. Nerves branch off from the spinal cord and leave the spinal canal in pairs. These nerve branches (called spinal nerves) leave the spinal canal through small spaces formed by adjacent vertebrae (called Intervertebral Foramen-IVF). Nerves transfer information between the brain, spinal cord, organs, muscles and other parts of the body. As the central nervous system monitors and controls all organ and tissue function, the transmission of information to and from it must flow freely to allow proper function.
Vertebral Subluxation Complex (VSC) is defined as the functional misalignment of vertebra or the limited mobility of it’s facet joint. If a subluxation exists, the horse loses normal flexibility of the spine, affecting performance and resulting in stiffness and muscular tension. Reduced mobility between two vertebrae can affect the nerves that leave the spinal cord between these adjacent vertebrae. Negative alterations in the nerve’s function can lead to interference in the flow of stimuli or information, which is necessary for smooth coordination of body functions and muscle contractions. Small disturbance are usually only caused by a slight interference; however, they can keep the horse from performing at its best in demanding exercises. An animal with a subluxation will change it’s posture to compensate for the restricted mobility of its spine and to avoid pain. This triggers mechanical strain on other parts of the spine and extremity joints, causing secondary restrictions and deterioration of the condition.
Common Causes of Vertebral Subluxation Complexes include trauma, performance, narcotics, rider, trailering, poor hoof care, birthing difficulties, poor saddle fit, lack of movement and age.
Symptoms of Vertebral Subluxation Complexes include reduced performance, abnormal posture, snapping and pinning ears when being saddled, insubordination when being ridden, throwing head, hollowing back out, swishing its tail, disobedience, difficulties with collected or lateral gaits, changes in behavior, frightened or painful facial expression, sensitivity to touch, stiffness when bending in its general posture, muscular atrophy, brushing or interfering, difficulty engaging hindquarters, difficulty working long and low, shortened stride in one or more legs, overall decreased range of motion in gait, difficulty flexing at the poll, lameness, pulling against one rein, rider is seated off center due to the horse, the back does not swing, abnormal gait rhythm, unusual itching at the base of the tail or other parts of the body, increased sensitivity to heat and cold and asymmetrical or reduced sweating. This list is not exhaustive, however, it demonstrates the many effects the VSC can have.
Correction of the Vertebral Subluxation Complexes should be done by a correctly trained and certified chiropractor or veterinarian. The correction is made by a quick, short thrust on the specific joint space with reduced mobility. Only subluxed vertebrae are adjusted. Even though horses have a very large, thick muscle mass over the spine, the vertebral joints are flexible and relatively easy to manipulate with minimal force. Force is mass x acceleration, so the thrust is fast, not requiring a lot of mass behind the thrust. A complete chiropractic treatment includes examination and appropriate adjustment of the entire spine and limbs as well as the temporomandibular joint.
The number of treatments required by your horse will vary and is decided on an individual basis. In most cases, a single treatment is not enough to eliminate the problem. The goal of chiropractic treatment is to address neurological dysfunction in the spine and restore mobility. It is then the task of the muscles and ligaments to support the spine and maintain this correct position. Most horses show significant improvement with one to four treatments. Chronic problems usually take longer to resolve requiring more chiropractic treatment, whereas horses with acute problems often respond more quickly. After the initial treatments, keeping your horse adjusted regularly can help prevent chronic issues and keep your horse healthy and feeling great.
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