Massage is not a cure for arthritis, but it can slow down the degenerative process and offer pain relief. The pain and stiffness associated with arthritis affect horses in the same way they affect humans. A comprehensive holistic home-care program will keep your arthritic horse as healthy, happy and pain free as possible.
Early symptoms of equine arthritis include:
- General stiffness
- Decrease in overall activity level
- Difficulty going up and down hills
- Discomfort during trailer loading/unloading
- Not wanting to be touched or handled
More pronounced symptoms might include:
- Marked stiffness or lameness when walking, trotting or cantering
- Heat and possibly swelling around the affected joint(s)
- Painful signs on his face when he puts weight on an affected leg or when he’s touched there
The joint areas mostly affected by arthritis are the hips, various parts of the spine, stifles, hocks and knees, pasterns and to a lesser degree the shoulders and elbows. Massage helps relieve some of the pain by relaxing the tight adjacent muscles and ligaments. This will break the “pain/tension/more pain” cycle.
WHEN TO MASSAGE
Massage in the morning to erase the stiffness and soreness from the night’s inactivity and in the evening to relieve muscle tension resulting from the activities of the day.
HOW TO MASSAGE
Start by lightly stroking the area you are about to massage. Follow with several light effleurages to get the circulation going. Next, use very light kneading over the tight muscles, as well as some very light hand friction to loosen the fibers and stimulate deeper circulation. Intersperse with effleurages regularly, every 10 seconds on average, to assist drainage. Do not work directly over the joints afflicted with arthritis. When done, thoroughly drain the area with gentle effleurages.
Regular exercise will keep your horse’s musculoskeletal system fit and flexible. Small exercise sessions throughout the day are beneficial. Longer sessions might cause him to get stiff and ache all over afterwards.
MEDICATIONS AND SUPPLEMENTS
Classical medications for arthritis include aspirin, cortisone or other non-steroid medications such as carprofen (aka rimadyl tm). Nutritional supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin help control pain, improve joint mobility and reduce the damage to the cartilage resulting from the arthritis. Vitamins A, C, and E, the mineral Selenium and antioxidants such as Bioflavonoids are also beneficial. Helpful herbal supplements are yucca, devils claw and alfalfa just to list a few.
This comprehensive holistic approach usually works well in keeping your horse healthy and comfortable. Always consult your practicing veterinarian before starting any of the modalities listed above.
Jean-Pierre Hourdebaigt, LMT, CEO Animal Awareness, has practiced as a Licensed Massage Therapist since 1983. His Massage Awareness Method® blends ancient traditional techniques and the latest developments in modern massage therapy. On his website www.animalawareness.com , he offers a free library of articles on relevant topics about young, mature and aging animal care.