Veterinary Spinal Manipulation

Dr. Reed is a Certified Equine Veterinary Medical Manipulation Practitioner, and provides this modality as a standalone service and in conjunction with acupuncture and laser therapy. Please scroll down to read through some frequently asked questions about spinal manipulation.

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Horse Chiropractor

What is Equine Veterinary Medical Manipulation (EVMM)? What is spinal manipulation? Is it the same as chiropractic?

Spinal manipulation is very similar to chiropractic - the examination and manipulations have the same goal, which is to restore normal function and range of motion. However, when applied to animals, this type of manipulative therapy is correctly called spinal manipulation or veterinary medical manipulation. Spinal manipulation and chiropractic both start with a specialized examination of the equine spine and limb joints to find restrictions or areas of decreased range of motion - this is called a motion palpation exam. Specific manipulations, or adjustments, are then used to restore normal range of motion (ROM) and normal function to the joint(s). These manipulations involve a high velocity, low amplitude (HVLA) thrust directed in the plane of the joint to correctly and safely restore ROM. This requires proper knowledge of equine anatomy and extensive training, but not extreme strength.

What is a restriction? What is a subluxation? What do the terms "out" or "stuck" mean?

A subluxation is defined as misaligned vertebrae leading to hypomobility of a motion unit. More simply, it is an area of the spine or joint that is "restricted" and unable to move correctly - and thus, subluxation and restriction are synonyms and can be used interchangeably. Restrictions are caused by trauma, confinement, exercise, age, and the day to day activities of performance horses, but can be worsened by poor saddle fit, an unbalanced rider, poor hoof balance, and lack of cross-training and/or proper conditioning. Common areas for restrictions include the poll, lower neck, back, pelvis and sacrum.

FYI, Dr. Reed prefers the word restriction, and avoids the term subluxation and the words "out" and "stuck". Subluxation can be confused with a medical term for dislocation and, therefore, can be confusing to other medical practitioners. In addition, "out" and "stuck" can be misleading, since adjustments of restrictions do not actually put bones back into place, but rather free up movement to allow for normal range of motion.

Why should restrictions be corrected?

Restrictions result in decreased range of motion, and, therefore, decreased flexibility, increased stiffness, resistance and often pain. In addition, misaligned vertebrae can cause problems at the spinal cord level and also where nerves exit between two vertebrae leading to a decrease in information flowing through the nervous system. Not only can this be painful, but also will decrease the nervous systems ability to send and receive information to and from muscles, which can cause missteps or shortened stride, muscle damage and atrophy, joint and tendon injury and poor performance. Lastly, restrictions may lead to a change in posture or compensation to avoid pain and this can lead to secondary restrictions, additional injuries, and/or lameness.

How are restrictions corrected?

A restrictions is corrected by a spinal (chiropractic) manipulation adjustment. This involves proper knowledge of anatomy, specific training, and a high velocity, low amplitude thrust directed in the plane of the joint. When performed correctly this will remove the restriction and restore normal range of motion.

What are signs of restrictions?

There are many signs of restrictions, but often they involve a painful or compensatory gait or postural change, poor performance and/or refusal to work. This can vary from shortness of stride and lameness to muscle atrophy, from bucking under saddle to asymmetrical sweating. It is important to note that these signs can also be caused by injuries or traumas that may require an integrated approach using both western and complementary therapies, and it is important to seek out veterinary advice for a whole horse examination. Below is a brief list of some of the signs of restrictions:

  • Change in behavior or attitude, while saddling, riding, etc.
  • Change in performance or decreased energy
  • Girthiness
  • Refusing jumps
  • Resistance to collect or laterally bend
  • Hard on one rein
  • Sticking tongue out
  • Avoiding bit contact
  • Difficulty with one lead, always landing on the same lead after a jump
  • Wringing tail
  • Stiffness
  • Shortened stride
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Difficulty flexing at the poll
  • Lameness
  • Bucking, especially in gait changes like trot to canter
  • Poor muscle development
  • Asymmetrical sweat pattern
  • Dragging toes

As a horse owner, you can monitor for signs of restrictions by assessing your horse routinely for:

  • Normal range of motion or changes in range of motion - Can your horse bend in both directions with the same ease? Back up normally? Any changes felt under saddle?
  • Appropriate muscling - Are there any asymmetries? Pain? Areas of tension or muscle atrophy?
  • Proper posture - Does your horse stand square or always with one limb rested?

If you notice any of the above signs or changes in your routine monitoring, it may be time to schedule an appointment. Also, Dr. Reed often discusses these monitoring techniques, as well as conditioning exercises to minimize restrictions, with owners during spinal manipulation appointments. If you have any questions, please just ask!

Who can perform equine spinal manipulation?

In the state of Texas, spinal manipulation or chiropractic manipulation can only be performed by either a licensed veterinarian or a (human) doctor of chiropractic certified in veterinary spinal manipulation.

What is unique about Dr. Reed's spinal manipulation training?

Dr. Reed's EVMM training and certification is through the Integrative Veterinary Medical Institute - this program is the only medical manipulation course offered exclusively to veterinarians and focused specifically on equine medicine. This style program allows for a very in-depth approach, including the discussion of conventional and integrative veterinary medicine diagnostics and treatments, as well as hands-on wet labs in radiology, ultrasound therapy, anatomy, and biomechanics.

Is spinal manipulation safe?

When performed by a trained and certified animal chiropractor or veterinarian, spinal manipulation is very safe.

Can acupuncture and spinal manipulation be used in the same appoinement?

Absolutely! Dr. Reed commonly uses both modalities during the same appointment, and often adds laser therapy as well. Acupuncture and spinal manipulation are synergistic - when used together we see the greatest benefit for our patients.

How long will a spinal manipulation appointment take?

A typical adjustment will take about 30 minutes, although initial visits are often a little longer. When combined with acupuncture, appointments are generally 45 to 60 minutes.

How many spinal manipulation appointments will my horse need?

The number of sessions depends on many factors, including the disease or condition being treated, the horse's age, and the chronicity of the problem. In general, conditions that have been going on for a long time require more sessions, sometimes monthly, and newer conditions can require fewer sessions.

Ideally, Dr. Reed recommends evaluating all high performing horses every 4 to 6 weeks and then utilizing acupuncture, spinal manipulation and laser therapy as needed. This schedule allows Dr. Reed to find and remove restrictions before they cause secondary and compensatory problems. Pre-show adjustments are also an excellent way to ensure your horse is in tiptop condition, but it is important to discuss timing with Dr. Reed when scheduling, especially if this is your horse's first adjustment.

Can I ride my horse after spinal manipulation?

After the first spinal manipulation appointment, Dr. Reed commonly recommends 8 to 12 hours without heavy work. However, since movement is often beneficial post-adjustment, turnout, hand walking and/or light under saddle work is often recommended.