About Back Pain In Horses
Back pain is relatively common when it comes to horses. There are many clinical exams as well as diagnostic techniques available to localize symptoms of discomfort to the back. Treatment of back pain usually includes a combination of medical treatments as well as physical therapy strategies to strengthen your horse’s spine and increase comfort and performance over the long term.
Signs of Back Pain
Back pain in horses can present with a variety of symptoms. Some of the more common signs include:
- Poor performance/reduced performance which may progress to behavioral problems (rearing/bucking/stopping or running out at fences). Many horses will feel “disconnected” from front to back or may have a short-stride gait in general.
- Discomfort with grooming or pressure over the back. This should be interpreted with caution because some horses may simply be “thin-skinned” and may not be experiencing significant back pain. A sudden change in your horse’s response to grooming may be an indicator of back pain, however.
- Resistance to saddling, increased “grittiness” or abnormal gait after being saddled.
Remember, some horses are very stoic! Many will still perform well yet show evidence of significant back pain on clinical examination. A careful examination of the back should be part of any lameness/soundness evaluation and can be checked even in the absence of performance problems.
Treating Back Pain in Horses
When we treat the pain and spasm of the longissimus muscles, we are often erasing the symptoms of another problem. Treatment is typically highly effective, but without addressing the underlying reason for the back pain, the effects will only be temporary. Back pain and muscle spasm can result from:
- Primary back pathology as noted above
- Lameness elsewhere in the horse, especially hindlimb lameness
- Poor saddle fit
- Unbalanced riders
- Bracing secondary to gastric ulcers
- Instability of the spine due to weakness of multifidus muscles
- Direct injection of anti-inflammatory medications into the back muscles
- Shockwave Therapy
- FES Therapy (Functional Electrical Stimulation)
- NSAIDs (Bute, Banamine, prefix)
- Muscle relaxants — Robaxin
- Alternative medicine – chiropractic and acupuncture treatments