Complimentary therapies, or alternative therapies, have been used for centuries in human health but are now starting to get a runway in equine health care as well. Complimentary therapies can be very useful in the treatment of injuries, recovery from training , preventing injuries, maintaining a healthy condition, and reduce physical and mental stress. There are a wide variety of complimentary therapies available and the list grows every year! Some of these therapies are great in that they can be used on an everyday basis by horse and barn owners, while other therapies require application by a trained professional. It is also important to note that complimentary therapies of any sort do not replace professional care from your veterinary, farrier etc., they serve to enhance the care and treatment.
So what all is out there? Almost too much to list in one post!! So I’m just going to run through some of my favourites that I’ve had personal successes with!
Ice Vibe Boots
Ice Vibe Boots (made by Horseware Ireland) use ice and vibration therapy to help reduce swelling/inflammation/heat, increase circulation, and help to tighten and strengthen tendons and ligaments after a strenuous workout. Ice Vibe Boots are available in the Full boot (for tendons and ligaments in the cannon bone), the Hock boot and the Knee boot giving you a wide variety of options. These boots have always worked great every time one of my horses’ has a puffy or warm tendon or ligament 🙂
Game Ready Equine
This past summer leading up to and at Bromont was my first experience with the GameReady system and I have to say – Love it!! The GameReady uses a combination of cold hydro and circulation therapy to improve circulation, strengthen and tighten tendons and ligaments after a strenuous workout, and reduce inflammation/heat/swelling. The GameReady is an excellent alternative to traditional cold hosing. One of the coolest features is that there is a variety of settings available depending on your end goal. I used the GameReady on Breaking Boundaries in his Pre-Competitive Season after every gallop and jump session to promote the recovery of his tendons and ligaments. I also used the GameReady after cross country at Bromont in addition to icing and saw great results. In combination with the IceVibe Boots it is the best I’ve ever seen his tendons and ligaments hold up!
Electro-Magnetic therapy comes in a variety of forms including boots, blankets, hoof pad, and even a blanket for camels!! Electro-Magnetic Therapy devices emit minute elecomagnetic pulses that can help to improve circulation, relax muscles, reduce stress, and improve muscle soreness, tone and overall stiffness. The great thing about Electro-Magnetic therapy is that it can be used as treatment or for maintenance. Electro-Magnetic Therapy also promotes cell regrowth and has been used to help repair fractured or broken bones in horses! So cool!!
PEMF: Pulsed Magnetic Fields Therapy
PEMF is a relatively new therapy that I have yet to use, but have heard great things about! PEMF uses coils that move over the horse’s body and open and relax cell membranes with each pulse to improve the cells use of oxygen and nutrients and help the cells to release toxins and waste. The coils are gradually moved along the body, focusing on problem areas which are identified by a pulsing and twitching reaction from the horse. PEMF is particularly beneficial for bone healing, general maintenance, injury recovery, pain relief, reduced inflammation/swelling, and increased energy and circulation. This therapy is best done by a certified PEMF therapist.
Shockwave Therapy is a great, non-invasive treatment. Shockwave is beneficial for musculoskeletal, bone and soft tissue. This therapy helps to accelerate healing and reduce inflammation. Shockwave works through acoustic waves that penetrate living tissue and pass through healthy tissue unimpeded until it hits an area of resistance at which time a large energy bundle is released and absorbed into the tissue to accelerate recovery. A common misconception with shockwave is that it delivers a shock to the horse – this is untrue. The waves are more like an ultrasound than a “shock”. Shockwave therapy was an instrumental tool in bringing Breaking Boundaries back from his tendon injury this summer. This therapy requires a properly trained professional (i.e. veterinarian!)
Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) uses a low power red and near infrared light to help improve soft tissue injury healing and provide pain relief. Because of the low level laser the benefits come biochemically rather than thermally which prevents heat damage. The main benefits of LLLT are to improve immune responses of the bloodstream, supply oxygen and energy to the cells, improve lymphatic drainage, improve development of blood vessels, and improve anti-inflammatory and immuno-suppressive reactions. This therapy was the second element that was instrumental in Breaking Boundaries healing this summer. With the use of the laser we were able to eliminate the development of any scar tissue in the are! This therapy should only be provided by a well trained professional.
Acupuncture has been around for centuries and is really making a break through in the equine industry. Acupuncture is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that works to promote the natural flow of energy and balance of the body. The scientific aspect of acupuncture comes in knowing the anatomy of the horse to be able to treat specific conditions. Acupuncture uses very fine needles placed in specific locations on the body to stimulate the nervous system. These points are located along channels throughout the body, and because of these channels the points are often some distance away from the actual area of pain. The most common problems which acupuncture is applied for include; musculoskeletal problems, colic, respiration problems, reproduction problems, nerve problems, and general maintenance. This therapy should only be applied by a trained and certified professional!
Chiropractic and Massage Therapy
As in humans chiropractic is used to relieve pain and stiffness in the musculoskeletal system. Quite often a simple, regular adjustment can help to put something back in the correct position and help the horse feel better all over. Chiropractic can be a good starting place if you notice a small or large change in your horse from the way he moves and performs to his overall attitude.
Massage therapy is a great tool for maintenance or injury recovery. Breaking Boundaries began using a massage therapist when he started competing at the Preliminary level, just to help him with any soreness he was experiencing from the increased training and to help him while he was developing new muscles. I have rarely seen a horse look so satisfied!! Massage Therapy uses a variety of techniques and pressures to relieve any tension, pain or stress in the muscles.
Both Massage Therapy and Chiropractic work should be done by certified and trained professionals!
Hopefully this has provided you with a quick synopsis of a few of the therapies available to you. Remember – these therapies do not replace professional care and use caution when hiring people to apply these therapies to your best friend!