Equine Physical Therapy Treatment Strategies: Myth vs Fact

person s hand touch horse nose

How do you know what to believe when it comes to equine physical therapy treatment? Do magnets really work? Click here to separate myth from fact. 

There are lots of myths out there about physical therapy services for the equine. As a horse owner, how can you separate myth from fact?

Layman service providers that provide pseudo-scientific treatment strategies given under the guise of “physical therapy” harm both horses and owners, as well as take credibility from highly-educated Doctors of Physical Therapy. Owners can spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on a treatment that may be doing little to benefit their horse. This is in stark contrast to  the scientifically-backed equine physical therapy treatment strategies used by Certified Equine Rehabilitation Practitioners.

Scientifically-Based Treatment Methods

A Physical Therapist is a doctorate-level medical professional with the skills and education to diagnose, treat, and coordinate client care. Some of these doctors who have a speciality certification in equine rehabilitation, use their skills and education to help your horse move correctly in order to decrease injury risk and improve performance.These treatment programs may include manual therapy, physical modalities, and exercises, all coordinated with your DVM. Three different types of prescribed exercises include aerobic, resistance (strength training), flexibility, and balance. Each exercise is completed for a specific duration and frequency, that slowly builds over time. Exercises prescribed by an equine physical therapist can help a horse heal from injury and prevent injury from happening in the first place. 

If you’ve used carrot stretches in the past, then you’re familiar with the miracles created by these simple exercises. Carrot stretches are done by using a carrot (or similar finger-safe treat) to guide your horse through several stretches. These include encouraging the horse to stretch through their rib cage and bend their neck to the side and touch their nose to their chest. Carrot stretches help to increase strength and flexibility based on frequency and duration. 

Visual marker systems are used in equine physical therapy to help your physical therapist assess compensatory movement in your horse’s gaits, saddle slippage, and rider balance. Markers are attached to your horse’s croup, hips, center of cantel, and on the rider. Any asymmetries in movement are then captured on video. 

While a Doctor of Physical Therapy does apply their education to the equine, some key treatments differ. For example, a Certified Equine Rehabilitation Practitioner can take advantage of a horse’s twitch reflex to create a sternal lift and pelvic tilt. All the medical professional has to do is run a finger down the horse’s ventral line or on either side of the tail. 

How to Spot a Fake “Treatment”

Unfortunately, 2020 has been the year of fake news and the physical therapy industry is no different. This year has seen articles by non-scientific publications touting magnets and ceramics as physical therapy. Because of this, it can be hard to pick out what will help your horse and what will harm them. 

When choosing a potential physical therapy treatment for your horse, it’s important to keep in mind the source. Evaluate where you heard about it. Was it in a scientific journal? Or a local gossip rag? You can’t always trust the lady who owns the horse in the stall next to you. It’s important to research treatment strategies in a trusted scientific journal, such as the NIH, before searching for a provider. 

Once you find a provider, evaluate them closely. Do they have a degree in higher education? Is this their main source of income? Are they being paid by a larger company to provide the service, such as the manufacturer? Before you let someone do medical procedures on your horse, ensure that they have a medical background and you have consulted your DVM. 

Controversial Treatment Strategies

One of the more recent “treatment strategies” that has come to light in the physical therapy industry is using magnets to heal wounds and treat lameness. A Horse Sport article claimed that magnets rebalance the cells at the molecular level to realign the body via electrical stimulation. This is emphatically false. There is insufficient evidence that magnets have any impact on health. 

Some providers claim that there is a link between using magnets in medical devices, such as an MRI machine, and the health benefits of magnets. This is like claiming that because an A/C unit cools down your house, it must be a good way to draw out heat in a swollen leg. 

Another controversial treatment that has lately gathered speed is ultrasound therapy. This technique has been around since the 1950s. While the FDA has approved ultrasound therapy for several different uses, including cancer therapy, it’s still one to think about carefully before taking the leap. Ultrasound therapy is a high-risk treatment, with the possibility of burns and mechanical hemorrhages if used improperly. 

Class 4 laser therapy, like the type we offer at Physio Equine Solutions, is quite different from ultrasound therapy. Both treatments reduce pain and inflammation, increase cell regeneration, and stimulate muscle contraction. However, each strategy goes about it in a different way. 

Ultrasound is a form of heat therapy. The device head must be kept moving to avoid burning the tissue below. A class 4 laser is less invasive and much safer. It uses a non-thermal infrared light to block pain and stimulate healing. 

It pays to do your research in regards to the wide variety of treatment strategies out there. A Doctor of Physical Therapy who is a Certified Equine Rehabilitation Practitioner is the best place to start for your equine partner. As a trusted medical professional they can steer you in the right direction by building a comprehensive treatment plan packed with science-backed strategies, all in conjunction with your veterinarian.

Looking for a treatment plan for you and your horse? Contact Dr. Shields today. 

%d bloggers like this: