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Back Pain in Horses

Your horse works hard, but sometimes health conditions and external factors can lead to back issues that can greatly affect their quality of life. Here, our Rock Springs veterinarians discuss the causes of back pain in horses, and treatment for muscle soreness.

About Back Pain In Horses

Back pain commonly affects horses. Veterinary professionals utilize numerous clinical exams and diagnostic techniques to pinpoint discomfort symptoms in the horse's back. Treating back pain typically involves a blend of medical interventions and physical therapy strategies. These are aimed at strengthening the horse's spine and enhancing long-term comfort and performance.

How serious is back pain in horses?

Back pain in horses can vary in severity depending on the underlying cause. It can range from mild discomfort to debilitating pain that affects their performance and overall well-being. Seeking prompt veterinary care and proper management is crucial to address the issue effectively and prevent further complications. 

Signs of Back Pain in Horses

Horses with sore back pain can exhibit a variety of symptoms. Some of the more common signs include:

  • Poor performance or reduced performance may progress to behavioral problems (rearing/bucking/stopping or running out at fences). Many horses will feel 'disconnected' from front to back or may generally have a short-stride gait.
  • Discomfort with grooming or pressure over the back. This should be interpreted cautiously because some horses may simply be 'thin-skinned' and may not be experiencing significant back pain. However, a sudden change in your horse's response to grooming may indicate back pain.
  • Resistance to saddling increased 'grittiness,' or abnormal gait after being saddled.

Keep in mind that some horses may hide signs of weakness. Despite performing well, many still display substantial back pain during clinical examination. A thorough back examination is essential for any lameness/soundness assessment and can be conducted even if there are no apparent performance issues.

Causes of Back Pain in Horses

There can be a number of potential causes behind horses' back problems. The good news is that the successful treatment of these issues can usually also relieve a variety of other symptoms.

Some of the most common factors behind back pain in horses are:

  • Lameness
  • Poor saddle fit
  • Unbalanced riders
  • Bracing pain caused by gastric ulcers
  • Instability due to weakness of multifidus muscles (used to stabilize the lower spine)

When is it time to bring my horse to the vet for back pain?

It is important to bring a horse to the vet for back pain if they are showing signs of discomfort, such as stiffness, reluctance to move, or changes in behavior. Additionally, if the horse's back pain is not improving with rest or basic treatments, it is time to seek veterinary care to determine the underlying cause and an appropriate treatment plan.

Diagnosing Back Pain in Horses

Your vet will use several techniques to aid in the diagnosis of your horse's health issue, including:

Treating Back Pain in Horses

Treatment for horses with muscle soreness and back pain can involve:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Mesotherapy
  • Shockwave Therapy
  • FES Therapy (Functional Electrical Stimulation)
  • NSAIDs (Bute, Banamine)
  • Muscle relaxants (Robaxin)
  • Chiropractic Care
  • Acupuncture treatments

How to Strengthen Your Horse's Back

Topline exercises can be done in-hand, under saddle or while lunging. The following exercises can be tailored to your horse’s fitness level to help build topline (back muscles):

  • Long and low work: Stretching your horse's nose down and forward while exercising.
  • Transitions: These encourage your horse to sit and push from behind while finding balance and strength along their back.
  • Pole work: Raised or flat poles can encourage your horse to lift their back, engage their abdomen and round their topline.
  • Rein back: Backing up causes your horse to shift its weight toward its hind end, engaging muscles in its hips, sacroiliac area and lower back.
  • Lateral work: These movements strengthen the adductors and abductors (muscles that move the legs towards and away from the body). They also encourage your horse to activate their topline and abdominals while keeping the muscles loose and relaxed.
  • Hill work: Walking up and down hills improves your horse's proprioception. It also causes them to contract their abdominal muscles and raise their topline, strengthening their hind end.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding horses. For the diagnosis of your horse's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Are you concerned that your horse may be experiencing back pain? Contact our Rock Springs vets to have your equine friend cared for.

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