What to expect from an Equine Physiotherapy Assessment and Treatment.
Updated: Sep 15, 2021
Is your horse stiff on one rein? Has there been a recent change of behaviour? Is he bucking? Or perhaps he is recovering from an injury, has recently had surgery or is just 'not quite right'? Now may be the time to book a physiotherapy appointment.
An equine physio assessment can be nicely divided into a three step plan.
The subjective assessment.
This is a really important part of the assessment. It is where you tell me all about yourself and your horse. It may include any past medical history, including previous injuries or chronic conditions, any medication and supplements that your horse is on, and what you are currently doing with your horse.
I like to discuss your goals and what you would like to achieve. You can also tell me about any current problems you feel you or your horse may have, and if there is anything that seems make the problem better or worse and if the problem is improving, getting worse or staying the same.
All of this information with give me clues as to what may be causing or contributing to a problem and will give me a better understanding of your goals and how I may be able to help you more effectively. I occasionally hear people say (or post on forums/FB) that they will sometimes withhold information at this point as a ‘test’ to see if the therapist picks up on the problem. Please don’t. The more information you can give us the better we will be able to help you. Horses can and will easily mask their issues, especially if their adrenaline is up, and you know your horse better than anyone, so be honest, open and share as much information as you can to help resolve the problem.
The Objective Assessment.
In this part of the assessment I aim to reproduce the problem that you are experiencing. Or if it is a maintance check to thoroughly assess the horse for any abnormalities.
It starts with a static assessment, I will be looking for any muscle asymmetry, areas of swelling and general conformation. You will be asked to walk your horse away from me and then back towards me, and then trot away and back. Here I am looking for lameness, symmetry and strength. I will also use an app called ‘Coach’s eye’ to review your horses gait in slow motion to ensure that I do not miss anything that may not be visible at normal speed.
After that I may also ask you to lunge your horse, often in walk trot and canter, but this will depend on the point of rehab your horse has reached and how balanced they are.
I will then want to see how your horse turns on a tight turn, I will be looking to see if that are able to effectively bend through their spine, how they cross over their limbs, and if they are comfortable doing this in both directions.
If you have a particular problem only when ridden I may also ask you to show me so that I can see exactly what is happening. If you have video footage this may also be useful.
Following on from the dynamic assessment I will want to assess your horse’s passive range of movement. This will include looking at the available range of all four limbs, their pelvis and their spine, from cervical spine through to thoracic and to lumber. Here I am assessing for the quality as well as the quantity of movement.
Finally I will palpate. I am looking for areas of muscle spasm, fascial tightness, joint stiffness and any specific areas of tenderness.
The final step is the treatment plan. As I am working through the assessment I will be formulating a plan in my head on the best way to treat your horse. So as an example here is a hypothetical problem list with the associated treatment plan;
Problem List Treatment Plan Goal
1. Weak Gluts Hill work Strengthen gluts
2. Poor Core Strength EquiBand/ ground work Improve core stability
3. Muscle spasm Reflex inhibition Reduce muscle spasm
through epaxials Myofascial release
4. Tight thoracolumbar BioMag/LASER Ease fascial tightness
fascia Myofascial release
5. Stiff T18-L5 Spinal mobilisations Increase spinal mobility
So this is just happening in my head. Ideally we should make these goals SMART. (Specific, Measured, Attainable, Relevant, Timed) –but more on that another day.
What I will say is the top two are you more long term goals and what you as an owner can work on in order to improve the rest of the problem list. In my experience points 3-5 are often associated with points 1 and 2. Sort 1 and 2 out and points 3-5 will resolve. In the meantime I can help with points 3-5 in the short term by carrying out the treatment plan. Make sense? I hope so.
More often than not I will leave my clients with ‘homework’ to complete. Physiotherapy is a two way street, I can help with the short term changes, but in order to achieve the long term changes. . .well that’s all on you.
A follow up appointment is recommend for first time client, usually between 2-6 weeks depending on the problem. After that usually offer 6 week checks for horses in heavy work, 3 month maintance checks for horses in medium work and 6 monthly checks for horses in light work. Non-ridden companions will vary depending on their age and generally mobility.
Following on from your appointment you will receive a detailed report on the assessment and treatment. you will be given full email support and where applicable a detailed rehabilitation calendar to abide by.
So I hope that helps you to understand what to expect from your appointment.
If you have any questions or you would like to book a session please get in contact.