Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Hazel's Back: Staving Off Kissing Spines

Hazel came to me with significant sway back, meaning the muscles in her back have contracted in a way that creates a deep curving "hammock" look, rather than a sturdy, straight back. The owners from which I purchased her actually had already begun to rehab her back before I got her, but she had proved to be a bit more of a project than they'd originally thought.

After going to check her out, I purchased her and brought her home to rehab here at Meadowlark. I admit, I didn't know the condition of her back or the extent to which she was contracted when I purchased her, but I would probably still have brought her home even if I did. She truly is a special mare, with one of the sweetest, moochiest personalities I've ever encountered.

While I haven't confirmed kissing spines in Hazel, I highly suspect that if she doesn't already have it, she was on the road to developing it. Severely contracted back muscles, sensitivity when grooming, sensitivity when spine is palpated, bucking in trot and canter, locking of back in riding and a four-beat disuniting in the canter all point to significant back issues, and Hazel unfortunately has shown every symptom. As the rehab work for kissing spine is beneficial to any horse with a weak topline, here we are!  Many vets will diagnose "suspected kissing spines" simply from watching the horse perform. Others desire a full set of X-rays, which is out of our budget. As the rehab for kissing spine is beneficial to any horse with a weak topline, we're moving ahead with a basic kissing spines rehab program!

Some background on Kissing Spines
Kissing Spines is more common in some breeds of horses than others, but has been seen in nearly every breed-type. Basically what it means is that the tall, spindly "spinous processes" that stick up off the top of the horse's vertebrae are interfering with each other. At first it is simply inflammation, but as time goes on it can lead to osteoarthritis and even fusing of the spine. This obviously causes significant pain in the horse, especially if ridden. 

The causes of kissing spines do vary; some horses are prone to it due to natural conformation, while others are brought into it by being ridden with a hollow back. Unfortunately one of the most common causes is the long-term use of an ill-fitting saddle. 

The good news is that Hazel does not appear have anything irreparable going on in her spine. If she truly does have kissing spines, we caught it very early and she will likely recover. She has shown significant improvement since her arrival and now happily carries students and volunteers (experienced Horse Huggers!) with comfort in the walk, often stretching down and using her back very nicely. The main goals at this point are to encourage Hazel to stretch out and down, and to encourage her to lift her tummy.

In addition to her physical therapy rides, Hazel is a very lucky girl in that our good friend (and podiatrist) has volunteered to use her red-light therapy pad on Hazel's back! The photo above shows her first session, after which Hazel promptly fell asleep in her stall (and was snoring!) I will also continue to use a red-light therapy pen to increase blood flow over some significant acupressure points a few times a week for the next few weeks. This is a new therapy for me, so hopefully we'll see some added improvement!

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