What Is Equine Rehabilitation?

Horse after receiving therapy

Equine rehabilitation is the application of physical therapy treatment protocols adapted specifically for horses. Physical therapy is the profession of helping the body heal, restoring soft tissue flexibility, muscular strength, and functional mobility skills of coordination and balance, to return the horse back to their pre-existing level of optimal performance, prior to the injury, illness, or surgery.

Theory and Science of Equine Physical Therapy

Example of Sweeny-atrophy of shoulder muscles secondary to nerve injury. Appropriate diagnosis for equine rehab utilizing electrical stimulation.

Physical therapy (PT) is a dynamic profession with an established theoretical and scientific base and widespread clinical applications in the restoration, maintenance, and promotion of optimal physical function (1). Physical therapists diagnose and manage movement dysfunction and provide interventions to restore optimal physical function.

This "fetlock blowout" is two years post injury consisting of solid bone and callous formation. Unfortunately, not much can be offered in terms of rehabilitation two years later for this arthrosed joint.

Physical therapy on animals is an emerging profession, represented by qualified physical therapists that are using their physical therapy skills on animals (2). The most common domestic mammals, dogs, cats, and horses, have similar connective tissue physiology to humans, therefore the same tissue healing principles that are commonly used in human PT can be applied to them. Animals of all disciplines, whether working or domestic pets, get injured, undergo surgery, and have the potential to heal.

Assessment and Rehabilitation Treatment for Horses

Assessment and rehabilitation treatment for the horse should follow the current human and veterinarian evidence-based practice trends (2). This not only encompasses both orthopedic and neuromuscular principles but also exercise physiology, biomechanics, and performance enhancement. The use of neuro-motor model for rehabilitation is encouraged considering the equine locomotive system in terms of joint stability and mobility (2).


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