One of the benefits of living in our modern era is the increasing body of knowledge about so-called “alternative” or “complementary” therapies and how they are beneficial not just to us, but to our furry friends, including our horses. Once considered fringe or snake oil, chiropractic and acupuncture therapies are now used alongside more traditional Western medicine and, for people anyway, are often covered by medical insurance.
Acupuncture and chiropractic therapies are especially suited to many of the issues that older horses experience, including chronic joint pain, arthritis, laminitis (inflammation of the hoof’s internal structures), and more. We don’t entirely know for sure how it all works, but it’s pretty hard to argue that it’s a placebo in a nonverbal animal. There have been some really good double blind studies in mice, for example, that clearly show acupuncture affects parts of the brain controlling pain receptors.
Chiropractic care is largely manipulation of the spine and associated joints. In people, chiropractors treat a lot of back and neck injuries and pain, and many of them work in concert with physicians and physical therapists. Because horses are asked to spend a lot of their lives carrying people around on their backs, they, too, often experience a great deal of stiffness and pain in the neck and spine. Chiropractic manipulation helps relieve the pain, which then allows the horse to move more freely, which relieves the stiffness and helps the injury heal more completely.
Bars has had multiple ligament injuries in his back legs, has arthritis in his hocks and probably his lower back, and every now and again manages to twist himself into some weird position that causes some soft tissue pain. All of these conditions can be treated perfectly well with conventional Western medicine, but not without side effects. We have therefore incorporated periodic acupuncture and chiropractic treatments into his overall health care regime. These therapies are not a cure, and there is a cost associated, but the benefit is that we have to use fewer drugs to manage his conditions and, at age 30+, he is still sound, feeling good, and has excellent quality of life. In addition, since acupuncture seems to work by altering the chemical signals passed along nerve channels, it’s been helpful in managing the extreme anxiety he’s been experiencing with the recent move.
I often make jokes about our “veterinary team,” but it’s really true—he has his “regular” veterinarian, his acupuncture/chiropractor veterinarian, and, of course, his farrier. I’ll discuss the importance of excellent farriery in a future post, but these three professionals together are a large part of having an active senior horse.
For additional information on veterinary chiropractic and acupuncture, visit these links:
Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine: https://www.vetmed.vt.edu/vth/services/equine/equine-chiropractic.asp
University of California, San Diego, Center for Integrative Medicine:
American Association of Equine Practitioners:
American Association of Veterinary Acupuncture: http://www.aava.org/