How Equine Massage and Manipulation Therapy Can Benefit Sports Horses
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Competition horses in particular can benefit greatly from Equine Sports Massage and Musculo-Skeletal Manipulation Therapy when it is built into their overall package of care.
Massage, whether in humans or animals, is the manipulation of the soft tissues of the body which includes muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia. It is an ancient complementary therapy first used in around 2,700BC by the ancient Chinese, so it is not a new therapy!
Musculo-Skeletal Manipulation Therapy combines massage with joint manipulation techniques to gently manipulate any joints, including vertebrae, which have become misaligned (or subluxed) which can help relieve tension and discomfort. It also promotes flexibility of the vertebrae and back and can ease discomfort from reduced joint mobility and stiffness.
The benefits of Equine Massage and Manipulation Therapy are felt by all horses and ponies but sports horses, in whatever level of competition, can gain great health benefits whilst reducing the risk of injury. Massage is a fantastic therapy to use to help improve ridden problems, or to aid your horse’s recovery post injury and through box rest, but it really comes into its own as a preventive measure with competition horses.
Horses in competition are finely tuned athletes and in order to perform at their best their muscles need to be healthy, elongated and strong. A weak, shortened muscle is more prone to injury to start with so regular massage sessions can help to prevent injury. A damaged, injured muscle will cause a muscular tear or spasm which are very common occurrences as a muscle can go into spasm quite easily for a number of reasons including a direct trauma, repetitive strain, over exertion or a joint misalignment. A muscle spasm or tear, however small, will cause that muscle to contract as it attempts to protect and heal itself so will not be able to operate to its full ability. If left untreated the problem will escalate causing pain and discomfort to the horse and a noticeable decline in performance and wellbeing. As the muscle heals it will replace the muscle tissue with scar tissue which is more fibrous and less supple. Massage increases blood flow to the area to assist in the repair and reduce the scar tissue to help get the muscle back to full working order.
With this in mind, one of the reasons massage therapy is so beneficial to competition horses is that it can take up to 90 days (three months!) for minor muscle injuries to become apparent. When it is noticeable there is a greater challenge to correct the problem as by this time there are likely to be compensatory muscle issues as the horse will have been doing its best to protect the area by moving differently to compensate adding extra pressure onto other muscles. Regular massage treatments will help to keep the body free of muscle spasms so your horse can move as freely as possible and perform to his best.
Competition horses also create a greater amount of lactic acid as a by-product of their physical exertion. A build up of lactic acid can cause muscle fatigue and the muscle to tighten and spasm, therefore massaging a horse after a competition is important to remove the lactic acid and therefore aid recovery.
Passive stretching is a key addition to massage as it allows the therapist and owner to monitor the flexibility of the muscles. Passive stretching is extremely useful to do before and after competition as comparing the range of movement is one of the quickest ways to determine muscle injury. With competition horses, prevention is better than cure.
When treating a horse it is important that the therapist treats the whole horse as what can appear to be the source of discomfort can often be a secondary problem through compensation for the primary problem. I use equine massage and manipulation techniques hand in hand to treat the muscles and the joints and spine to make sure the musculo-skeletal system is working as one.
You can read more about the benefits of Equine Massage Therapy on our website.