Modalities Of Equine Physiotherapy

Horses And Humans Need Different Treatments

Physiotherapy modalities used on the equine patient are similar if not exactly the same used for people. Like human physiotherapy, it is vital to ensure that the professional diagnosing and treating your horse is not only qualified with the correct credentials but also has experience in treating both human and horses.

Horsemanship skills are essential to be able to read your horse’s characteristics and reactions to treatments. I am of the firm belief that horses do communicate if you know what to look for, they just don’t speak English..!

Equine Physiotherapy Treatment Types


The horses’ history and a complete gait assessment are crucial to locating the area I think that Physiotherapy will benefit most, and more importantly, if and when Physiotherapy is indicated.

At a racing stable, this will be alongside the resident vet, trainer and farrier. ‘Trot ups’ as they are known, take place following galloping exercise. Observing these enables me to recognise an individual horses gait and plan my treatment accordingly.

When I visit a performance horse I ask detailed questions about the history of the horse and will perform a complete gait analysis at the walk, trot and canter. More often than not a ridden assessment is required which is invaluable when looking at gait abnormalities. This is then followed by a complete physio assessment to determine treatment.


Trot Ups with the Godolphin team.

Icing The Engine and Equi-Ice

For many years icing has been an effective form of treatment in elite human athletes for acute injuries to assist in recovery for performance. It is no different for the horse.

As a physio, I am very interested in the back and hind limb as many of my treatments are focussed on this area. I like to describe the back and hindlimb collectively as the engine room of the horse. As we know this region is crucial to performance so it was astounding that when I first entered this industry it was a foreign concept to use ice to assist in recovery.

Ice is such a simple, inexpensive and effective method of treatment for soft tissue injuries and an effective method of pain relief. After years of clinical experience, I can only stress how important icing is for the engine room to be healthy and pain-free.

Effectively icing a horse’s back and hind limb has been an invaluable addition to my treatment regimes and home management programs.

We place the back under such intense pressure and usually at an age where bones and joints aren’t fully matured. Not to mention the fact that more often than not they are exercising under saddle so this region is constantly exposed to stress.

I personally have found that effective ice treatment can be a great way to ensure that these athletes are in their best shape to perform the discipline they require. I have designed an effective ice pack which can effectively ice the wither, back and hindlimb region. To discover more about PhysioTom’s icepack known as EQUI-ICE click here. I really hope you will love it like I do, and more importantly, your horse does…!


TENS To Reduce Horse Muscle Pain and Spasm

TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. It’s a modality used to reduce pain and muscle spasm. It does this by decreasing the input of the nerve fibres associated with pain and increasing blood flow.

TENS decreases pain by changing how the nervous system responds to pain signals. In general, TENS units send electrical signals that confuse the pain pathways, blocking the sensation of pain. These systems are designed to stimulate only sensory nerves.

While human athletes can exercise isolated muscles, horses cannot. This is why electrical stimulation is very important for horses after injury and surgery.


Dry Needling Treatment For Horses

Dry needling is easily one of the most effective ways to relieve pain, restore function and improve range of motion. Through the insertion of a needle, the myofascial trigger points are mechanically de-activated. A localised twitch response occurs and then the muscle relaxes allowing an increase in blood flow to the area promoting healing and restoring normal function.

Horses thoroughly enjoy dry needling and it is certainly one of my favourite choices of treatment.


Acupuncture For Horses

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medicine technique that has been used for centuries both in the eastern and more recently in the western world.

It is a modality of therapy I use quite often and when applied correctly can have outstanding results to unblock toxins and repair channels of the body. Acupuncture has been reported to be beneficial, on its own or as an adjunct to contemporary medicine.

If your horse has a condition for which every passing minute means more tissue damage and a worsening prognosis (such as laminitis, severe colic, bowed tendon, or navicular disease), seek proven conventional care as his primary treatment. You can then use acupuncture to augment that protocol.

The ‘channels’ (see picture) serve several functions including transporting oxygen and blood throughout the body and rendering the body an integrated whole. The goal is to unblock

these channels to allow blood flow and healing.


It is the complex interweaving network of the channels that the oxygen and blood is transported and energised in the body. All the organs and tissues are nourished, energised

and warmed by the horse’s blood circulating through the channel network, this then

protects and strengthens the body resulting in a more elastic and energetic movement.

It is important to examine not only the primary source of pain but to investigate the secondary source of pain that needs to be treated in addition to the apparent soreness.

For example, a horses’ sore back will cause pain but will often also cause aching in the channels of the lumbar and leg region as an offset. The horse will exhibit this discomfort

with bucking, tail switching or not wanting to flex.

Reflecting back on its origins, the twelve primary channels run through the body vertically,

bilaterally and symmetrically. Each channel corresponds to and connects internally with one of the six “yin” and six “yang” channels.

Heat Treatment In Horses

Heat treatment in horses is an incredibly useful and practical method of soft tissue treatment. The application of heat increases metabolic activity in the muscle cells. This increased activity causes an increase in oxygen through the body and as a result, capillary dilation occurs to increase the amount of blood that brings oxygen and nutrients to the area.

Heat can address all different kinds of pain, which can be due to muscle spasm, reduced circulation, and nerve pressure caused by connective tissue change. Heating the tissues prepares them for mobilisation exercises, facilitating a greater range of motion through reflex pain relief and connective tissue softening stimulating the repair process.

Like humans, performance and racing horses benefit from heat treatment for a wide range of soft tissue disorders, such as muscle spasms, tendonitis, bursitis, and fibrositis.

On a usual case-to-case basis, acute injuries are treated with ice and compression, while subacute and chronic injuries are often treated with some form of heat. The other rule I like to work by is that I usually encourage heat to assist in warming up the muscles prior to exercise and ice to assist on cooling down.

When attempting to use superficial heating modalities on a horse, attention to the task is necessary to avoid overheating the skin and to provide sufficient deep heat to accomplish the treatment goals:

  • Heat applied too soon after injury will increase the inflammation, swelling, and pain.
  • Heat is contraindicated in acutely inflamed joints or soft tissue but can be safely applied when there is no increase in the swelling over a 24-hour period.

To discover a more detailed description of heat visit here

Ultrasound Treatment Of Horses

When working in the fast pace industry of the racing stable, the Veterinarian’s I work with predominantly at Randwick Equine Centre will perform ultrasounds on a regular basis and these results will allow me to diagnose a method of treatment. It is commonly used for muscle tears, tendon and ligament damage.

Working together has a significant advantage for the horses’ wellbeing, as we are able to treat more horses’ and with the attention they require.

Therapeutic ultrasound is capable of significantly raising the temperature of deep tissues.

But perhaps not quite so common is the use of ultrasound to facilitate recovery from injury. It is an intriguing and beneficial modality for treating a variety of problems in equines, particularly in the limbs.

Therapeutic Ultrasound is a method of stimulating the tissues using sound waves (mechanical vibrations) to promote healing, tissue repair and pain relief. It also allows us to speed up the healing process, increasing strength, encouraging cell growth and overall promoting elasticity and improving scar tissue.

Kineseo Taping Method

The Kinesio Taping Method is a recognised rehabilitative taping technique that is designed to facilitate the body’s natural healing process while providing support and stability to muscles and joints without restricting the body’s range of motion. It also provides extended soft tissue manipulation to prolong the benefits of manual therapy administered within the clinical setting.

Latex-free and depending on placement, the tape can stay on an equine patient for 3-5 days.

And, with the horse having hair on the skin, it can easily be removed or will eventually fall off!

By targeting different receptors within the somatosensory system, Kinesio Tex Tape alleviates this lifting initiates lymphatic drainage by microscopically lifting the skin. This

lifting affect forms convolutions in the skin thus increasing interstitial space and allowing for a decrease in inflammation of the affected areas.

Like all modalities, Kinesio tape can be used in conjunction with other forms of modalities which overall can increase the effectiveness of rehabilitation of the injury.  Tape can be used when pain and swelling from muscle overuse or weakness (sore back, trigger points, muscle tension). It can also be used on Lymphatic and circulatory issues (swollen joints and tissue, lymphangitis) and trauma (bruising).


Stretching For Horses

Stretching is such an important part of an athletes’ preparations and it should be no different for your horse. The benefits of stretching include an increase in the range of motion, preservation of soft tissue integrity and elasticity, neurophysiological benefits, increases in blood flow and removal of waste products such as lactic acid.

Stretching can be performed as part of a warm up or warm down and your horse will love it!! It sounds ambitious however you will be able to teach your horse to love the benefits of stretching and as a result, he/she may learn to stretch themselves.

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Chautauqua, the worlds’ best sprinter enjoying his stretch before the

Chairmans Sprint Prize in Hong Kong 2016.

Massage Therapy For Horses

When your animal’s muscles become shortened or ‘tight’ from injury or repetitive use, it can cause ‘muscle memory loss’, whereby the muscle forgets how to return to a relaxed, static state.

In this condition, muscles can tear, cramp or strain, lose their flexibility, strength and range of motion; thereby decreasing performance and usefulness due to pain.

Just like in human massage therapy, equine massage improves strength and range of motion; increasing performance and greatly reducing the chance of injury (physical and mental stress). It provides fast relief is gentle and relaxing.

Signs of the horse in comfort and when enjoying this treatment involve licking the lips, shifting weight to one side, relaxing the neck and ears and sometimes even falling asleep! I have been amazed at the results that I have achieved using massage and soft tissue release as a form of treatment.


There are a number of treatment types to help your horse recover and perform better. Some, like Equi-Ice are simple to use and apply, others like TENS require equipment and others require expertise in diagnosis and application.

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