Many horse owners incorporate chiropractic treatments, for themselves and their animals, into their health care regimens. Osteopathy is another branch of health care being applied to both humans and horses. As the health care field broadens its scope to include more modalities for human patients, many practitioners also want the benefits of these treatments to be available for animals. Stephen Schwartz, DO, is one of those practitioners.
Born in London in 1948, Dr. Schwartz graduated from the British College of Osteopathic Medicine at the age of 20 and has practiced in England, New Zealand, and Australia. He now resides and practices in Israel, and will soon be traveling to the United States to conduct his workshops.
Osteopath vs. Chiropractor
In the United States, an osteopath must attend post-graduate medical school for 4 years and then complete a three-year residency, the same as any MD. In contrast, a chiropractor goes to post-graduate chiropractic school for 3 years and then does a one-year internship. Osteopaths are able to prescribe medications (chiropractors cannot) and have privileges at hospitals.
Osteopathy was founded by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, who started the first American School of Osteopathy (now Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine) in 1898. Still made two important statements: “Structure governs function,” which means that a living organism cannot function normally if its supporting structures have lost part of their mobility; and “The rule of artery is sovereign,” which means that impaired blood circulation may weaken an affected organ. When an organ does not fulfill its function correctly, it cannot fight the nesting of bacteria or viruses, which take advantage of its weakness.
The four major principles of osteopathy are:
1. The body is a unit – an integrated unit of mind, body, and spirit.
2. The body possesses self-regulatory mechanisms, having the inherent capacity to defend, repair, and remodel itself.
3. Structure and function are reciprocally inter-related.
4. Rational therapy is based on consideration of the first three principles.
These principles are not held by osteopathic physicians to be laws, but are the foundation of the osteopathic philosophy on health and disease. The broad theory is that most pain and disease processes are caused by structural misalignments in the skeletal or muscular systems. By manipulating the body, the alignments can be corrected, allowing the fluids to flow properly, releasing entrapped nerves which in turn allow the body’s recuperative process to “heal itself.”
Manipulation aimed at mobilization of joints, muscles, or fascia helps to release restrictions. The manual osteopathic treatment makes use of an array of techniques, normally used together with dietary, shoeing or hoof trimming, saddle fitting and exercise advice, in an attempt to help horses recover from illness and injury or to minimize or manage pain and disease.
AN OSTEOPATHY SESSION
The process that Dr. Schwartz teaches begins when a history is taken, involving questions about diet, turnout, exercise or training routines, and any injuries or illnesses. Treatment of the horse begins with an overall evaluation of observing the individual. Does the horse stand square with weight placed evenly on all four feet? The horse is then observed moving in a straight line and then in circles at a walk. Here the practitioner is looking for deviations from normal movement, such as shortened stride length, landing on one side of a hoof, legs that do not track in a straight line, etc. All this information gives the practitioner information about possible restrictions in joints or soft tissue.
In osteopathy, the key to health is mobility. Restrictions in either joints or soft tissue can hinder movement and in turn create dis-ease, either directly (such as calcifications in the joint itself) or indirectly (fascia compressing blood or nerve supply).
Once the horse has been observed, the hands-on treatment begins. The horse is examined by palpation, with the practitioner looking for areas of muscle tightness, reactivity, and areas that feel unusually hot (inflammation) or cold (lack of circulation). Soft tissue restrictions may be treated with a variety of manual techniques, similar to what one would use in massage, such as effleurage, percussion, friction, or petrissage. The manual techniques in soft tissue are aimed at restoring movement of fluids. Then the joints are passively mobilized by slowly moving them through their available and comfortable range of motion. A joint may be flexed and extended, circled, and laterally or medially flexed. The joints are manually frictioned with soft circling of fingertips as they are mobilized to break up any calcifications that may have formed. Then the entire limb may be stretched to release any restrictions in soft tissue as well. All the techniques taught are non-invasive and low impact.
The process taught to riders and owners does not include performing an “adjustment,” a manual technique aimed at restoring motion. Osteopaths may perform manual adjustments of joints using one of a variety of methods. High velocity, low amplitude treatment uses force quickly applied to a discrete area. The key to removing the restriction is in the direction the force is applied -- at an angle that will cause the bones to realign. Another method is called percussion. The use of percussion was pioneered by Robert Fulford, DO, and developed over many years of practice. This involves using a Foredom percussor, commonly called an activator, over precise areas of the body at just the right speed (and correct length of time) to help the body treat itself. The activator is a spring-loaded metal device that releases a small rubber tipped plunger at low velocity. The plunger “thumps” the body and stimulates nerves that will then create a cascade of activity in the body that causes the restriction to release. These techniques should be undertaken only by chiropractors and osteopaths.
Equine osteopaths are common in many countries; however, they are limited in number in the United States. The “Find a Practitioner” link at the International Association of Equine Osteopaths website (www.theiaeo.org) lists just 15 states with certified Equine Osteopaths. The only institution in the US approved to provide certification training in equine osteopathy is the Vluggen Institute for Equine Osteopathy & Education, located in Austin, TX, and approved through the International Association of Equine Osteopaths.
Theresa Gagnon, a Certified Veterinary Technician and Licensed Massage Therapist, is the Director of Animal Programs at the Bancroft School of Massage Therapy in Worcester, MA, and a partner with Jodi Clark in Mending Fences Equine Wellness. www.HorseAndDogMassage.com , www.MendingFencesEquine.com
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