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Sports massage and its benefits

Sports massage looks at not only rehabilitation where a horse is being returned to work following an injury of some kind, but is also an effective means of preventing injury occurring in the first instance as a preventative maintenance tool. Sports massage seeks to identify the underlying cause and through the appropriate application of direct pressure and cross fiber friction ease muscle pain and spasm. It aids with circulation and removal of waste products from the muscles involved. Sports massage combined with passive stretching and appropriate range of motion (ROM) exercises allows for greatest range of movement through all joints, reducing strain placed on tendons and ligaments and increasing their elasticity. Freedom in the shoulders and hips allows for improved gait quality and ability to perform lateral movements as well as increasing the stride length. This improved ability reduces the risk of injury and fatigue.

Overuse, overstretching and overloading muscles can cause tissue lesions that can restrict the normal motion and create discomfort or pain. Strain injuries are cumulative, the original spasm could have occurred weeks prior to the now evident symptom. Horses, as with any athletes, will compensate or make use of protective splinting if a certain muscle or muscle group has been strained. This compensatory posture or way of going in itself may lead to further cumulative problems, often aggravated by further training, and until the original spasm is removed maximal efficiency can never be achieved. Sports massage helps to improve muscle tone and aid in lengthening the fibers. Muscles are rendered free of pain and spasm. The best protection is prevention, if sports massage is included as a regular maintenance tool early warning signs will be recognized by the practitioner and problems caught immediately.

 

A typical massage session

Every session begins with the taking of a complete case history. The animal in question is fully examined static moving on both hard and soft ground. Specific note is taken of conformation and muscular symmetry, nutritional status, basic dentistry, shoeing progress, tack fit (where applicable) etc.
During the session the horse is massaged from region to region using various palpation and massage techniques with appropriate passive stretches applied once the muscle groups have been isolated and softened. Stress point therapy and cross fibre friction is applied to areas of sensitivity to remove spasm.

At the end of the session follow up exercise is discussed with the owner or groom. This generally includes an individual working programme detailing specific exercises and safe stretching techniques, which will best benefit muscle development or rehabilitation. The initial session generally lasts between 60 to 90 minutes with follow up sessions lasting between 45 to 60 minutes depending on the horses progress.

A veterinary liaison is essential, it is often preferred for the veterinarian to be present when the body worker and owner discuss the progress of the horse.


Signs of muscle pain

We are given many indications that a horse is suffering from some degree of muscle pain

  • Defensiveness to touch, difficulty when being tacked up
  • Under saddle unwillingness to move forward, refusing jumps or knocking poles, unable to correctly perform lateral movements, not striking off on the correct canter lead or moving in a disunited manner, appearing to be stiff to one rein, unable/unwilling to work up or down inclines, not tracking up evenly, etc.
  • Normal behavior altered sleeping and eating patterns, a change in disposition