WHAT IS CHIROPRACTIC CARE?
Chiropractic care is a manual therapy, which can be used for many health and performance problems. Chiropractic focuses on the biomechanical dysfunction of the spine and its effects on the nervous system throughout 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 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. Nerves transfer information between the brain, spinal cord, organs, muscles and other parts of the body. Any place where two bones connect in the body and form a joint can have an effect on the surrounding tissue when the joint is problematic. Chiropractic focuses on the spinal joints and how proper alignment of the spine can allow the body to heal itself more efficiently by what is known as innate intelligence. As the central nervous system monitors and controls all organ and tissue function, the transmission of information being received and flowing outward must flow freely to allow proper function.
WHAT IS A VERTEBRAL SUBLUXATION COMPLEX (VSC)?
Chiropractors define a VSC as the functional misalignment of a vertebra or the limited mobility of its facet joint. If a subluxation exists, the horse loses normal flexibility of its spine, affecting performance and resulting in stiffness and muscular tension. Reduced mobility between two vertebra can affect the nerves that leave the spinal cord between these adjacent vertebra. Negative alteration 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.
Every movement, from a slight twitch of the tail to the complicated piaffe in dressage is made possible by synchronizing many muscles. If the function of the nerve fibers, which innervate these muscles, is altered, coordination deteriorates. Small disturbances are usually only caused by a slight interference; however, they can keep the horse from performing at its best in demanding exercises. Missteps resulting from lack of coordination may cause injury to other joints and tendons or ligaments in the legs. An animal with a subluxation will change its posture to compensate for the restricted mobility of its spine and to avoid pain. This triggers increased mechanical strain on other parts of the spine and extremity joints, causing secondary restrictions and deterioration of the condition.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Animals with VSC's may present with many symptoms, the most common of which is pain. Dogs and Horses with back pain often express this in their posture or in their refusal to work. The animals attempts to compensate for the pain by changing its posture and movement but this can result in other problems such as joint changes. The following symptoms may indicate pain caused by a subluxation and its affect on muscle coordination and mobility.
- Reduced performance
- Changes in behavior
- Abnormal posture
- Sensitivity to touch
- Stiffness when bending and in its general posture
- muscular atrophy
- Abnormal gait rhythm
- Stiffness when the horse leaves the stable
- Difficulty engaging the hindquarters
- Difficulty working "long and low"
- Shortened stride in one or more legs
- Overall decreased range of motion in gait
- Difficulty flexing the poll
- The back does not swing
A major effect of a VSC (subluxation) can be impairment to the flow of information in the nerves which exit the spinal cord between the vertebrae. As these nerves innervate the skin, certain glands and blood vessels, the neurological disturbance can lead to the following symptoms:
- Unusual itching at the base of the tail or other parts of the body
- Increased sensitivity to heat and cold
- Asymmetrical or reduced perspiration
This is not a complete list of symptoms but, it does demonstrate the many effects a VSC can have.
HOW CAN A VERTEBRAL SUBLUXATION COMPLEX BE CORRECTED?
When a Chiropractor or veterinarian, professionally trained in animal chiropractic, identifies a subluxation, he or she aims to correct the misalignment of the spine and restore mobility to the facet joints. Realignment is made via a quick, short thrust along the plane of the joint. This is called an adjustment. The adjustment is a very specific, high speed, low force maneuver that moves the affected joint beyond the normal physiological articular range of movement, without exceeding the boundaries of anatomical integrity. It is done by placing the hands directly on the affected vertebra (previously identified in the examination). Only subluxated vertebrae are adjusted.
Even though some animals have a very large, thick muscle mass over the spine, the vertebral joints are flexible and relatively easy to manipulate with minimal force. If the correct technique is used the ligaments are not adversely affected. "Straightening" the spine by pulling on the legs or tail is "non specific" as it affects a number of joints before reaching the vertebrae (i.e. when using the leg as a lever the fetlock, hock, stifle and hip joints will also be affected). Non-specific techniques, if not done properly, can damage the ligaments and joints, so it is important to avoid unspecific procedures in favor of safe methods of treatment.
A complete chiropractic treatment also includes the examination (and if necessary treatment) of limb joints and the temporomandibular joint. One question often asked of chiropractors is, "How many treatments will the dog or horse require?" This question must be answered on an individual basis for each patient. 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 muscles and ligaments to support the spine and maintain this new realigned position.
This process and the role of the chiropractor is similar to that of an orthodontist. The orthodontist applies braces to the teeth and over a period of time makes regular adjustments and corrections to realign the teeth, so that in time they will maintain their correct position. A chiropractor adjusts the spine to restore normal motion in the joint. This may need to be done a number of times, until the body accepts the normal motion and the muscles and ligaments support and maintain that motion.
Most animals show significant improvement after 1-4 treatments. Chronic problems usually take longer to resolve requiring more chiropractic treatment, whereas animals with acute problems often respond more quickly.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE BACK PROBLEMS
Qualified chiropractors are trained to recognize and treat subluxations However, riders, trainers and animal owners can monitor whether or not their dogs or horses have spinal problems. Inspecting the spine before purchasing a horse is just as important as inspecting the legs.
Your own observations
- Has your animals behavior or performance changed recently?
- Does unusual or fluctuating lameness exist?
- Does the rider have difficulty sitting straight on the horse?
- Has the owner, rider or trainer noticed changes in the various gaits?
- Does the dog or horse drag its feet or are the horses shoes worn down on the side?
- Using a treat if necessary, ask the dog or horse to turn its head and neck to the side so that it touches its flank with its nostrils. Less mobility one side compared to the other could indicate a problem in the cervical vertebrae.
- Test the lateral movement of the spine by placing one hand on the spine and with the other pull the animals tail carefully towards you so that its back bends around your hand. Is one side stiffer than the other?
- Place slight pressure on the back from above. The back should easily and evenly, spring and swing. It should not feel stiff and hard.
Feeling the muscles
Examine the animals main muscle groups for pain, tension and asymmetry. The muscles of a trained horse should be symmetrical; feeling firmly elastic but not too hard or too soft. If you place the muscles under moderate pressure, the animal should not show signs of being in pain.
Feeling the spine
Feel the spine from the withers to the tail, paying attention to any elevations and protruding areas of bone. Compare the two sacral tubercles (the bony points of the pelvis which protrude from the croup, or back end, on both sides of the spine) these should be level. Look for any protruding areas of bone in the neck.
HOW TO PREVENT SPINAL PROBLEMS IN YOUR ANIMAL
- CONFIRMATION AND BUILD
- When selecting your horse for a particular discipline, you should always pay attention to the horse's build. Many breeds have been selectively bred for years to achieve certain goals and are therefore suitable for particular disciplines such as dressage, jumping or western riding. Horses with long back often have a tendency towards muscle and ligament injuries, whereas horses with an upright shoulder often have problems in their forelegs.
- Massage encourages circulation and metabolism within the muscles, promoting the supply of nutrients and removal of toxins. Massage relaxes tense muscles enabling them to function better. It can also promote healing in muscular injuries by loosening muscle fiber adhesion's and increasing the flow of fluid and toxins from the tissue. Remember, muscles do what they are told by the nerves, so if there is underlying nerve irritation there will be chronic tight muscles.
- Horses and Canine athletes have an increasing tendency to subluxate and damage the spine if ligaments, tendons and muscles have not been developed to cope with the demands they are placed under. Interval training, suitable warm-up procedures and variety in training can help optimally condition sport animals.
- EQUIPMENT AND SADDLE
- Ensure that your saddle fits your horse. If a saddle fits correctly, no thick padded saddle cloth/numnah or additional pads are necessary. Check your saddle regularly to see whether the flocking is evenly worn, there is asymmetry of the panels or tree and that the saddle tree is intact. Any dampness under the saddle area after riding should be even in distribution.
- It is practically impossible for a poorly shod horse or a horse with badly fitting shoes to have or maintain a spine that functions properly. Heels that are too high or underrun, toes that are too long or uneven hoof wall length can negatively affect the mobility and posture of the horse. For the limb and spinal joints to function properly, it is necessary for the horse to be correctly trimmed or shod.
- TRAINING AIDS
- Many horses are forced into a desired frame with side-reins, martingales, draw-reins and other auxiliary reins. Used correctly, some of these aids can help in training; however, in the wrong hands they do the opposite. If a restriction in the spine already exists, these aids can make the problem even worse. Continual jerking and pulling on the lead rope or chain, especially with young horses, can lead to tension in the poll and neck area.
- Most sport horses are still kept in stables with limited space in which to move about and turnout is often restricted. The more time a horse spends in the stable without freedom of movement, the worse its coordination becomes. Its natural balance suffers, leading to an increased danger of injury. Bucking and rolling are the horse's natural means of mobilizing its spine. Make sure your animal gets enough exercise.
When done correctly, chiropractic treatment can be an effective way to maintain the health of your dog or horse. It can be used for chronic as well as acute problems. With chronic joint diseases such as bone spavin, navicular syndrome, tendon problems, complementary treatment can support recovery and prevent secondary back problems. Increasing the quality of life or health is important especially when treating older dogs and horses, but chiropractic treatment of younger animals is also recommended as a preventative measure. Chiropractic treats the cause, not the symptoms of back problems. It restores joint mobility enabling the dog or horse to maximize its performance potential.
If you think your animal would benefit from chiropractic treatment, please contact a chiropractor or veterinarian who has completed additional training in animal chiropractic.