Since the beginning of man's relationship with horses we have devised tools and treatments that, often unknown to their designers, brought about success by stimulating circulation in the tissues of the animal.
Modern science and experience have fine-tuned the use of treatments and devices, regulated the protocols of some and shunned the use of others. The result is a wide array of tools and tips for helping your horse feel and perform better than ever.
Cold Water Hosing and Icing
Application of cold water is perhaps the earliest recorded treatment for muscle soreness. Perfect in its simplicity, standing in a stream of cold running water was likely the first tool used to improve circulation. It remains the standard today. The cold water simply stimulates an increase in the blood supply to the affected area to warm the cold tissues, reducing swelling and pain in the process.
Horses in the battlefields would often rest at night with their legs padded in damp witch-hazel leaves and wrapped in cotton sheeting. From these humble beginnings, hundreds of liniment products have emerged that are used to improve circulation. Most liniments are available in gels that can be used on acupressure points, or liquid. It is important to read labels carefully and choose liniments that use safe and mild ingredients.
Massage therapy is a commonly used method of improving circulation. Along with its close cousin, myofascial release, these treatments soften tightened muscle tissues that restrict blood flow and oxygenation. Massage therapy can restore elasticity to the soft tissues that support the skeletal system, making it easier for a horse to self-correct subluxations or misalignments in the spine and limbs.
Light Emitting Diodes
LEDs are being used more and more to promote healing in horses and humans. These diodes recreate the benefits of natural sunlight by introducing broad spectrum, infrared and visible light energy directly to the skin. Treatments can be applied in various formats:
- Series of pads
- Wrap systems
- Stalls with lights (called solariums)
The solarium, set up in a grooming stall, bathes the horse in healthful simulated sunlight. The infrared rays penetrate even deep muscle soreness to stimulate circulation that creates a comfortable warm feeling. The solarium not only improves circulation, but also allows the body to harvest vitamin D, which is important to reproductive health and supports the immune system, reducing the incidence and severity of influenza and cough.
Low level lasers have been used by hospitals and clinics in Europe on both humans and animals since the early 1970s. Veterinarians in the US have used therapeutic lasers since the late 1970s. Unlike LED therapy, laser light consists of light waves of a single wavelength in which all the waves reinforce one another, called coherence. The term LASER is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Radiation in this case refers to the coherent light energy released, which produces the laser beam.
Just as plants exposed to normal sunlight synthesize carbohydrates in the process of photosynthesis, laser light stimulates the formation and release of the body?s own chemical compounds. The tissues absorb the laser light energy, stimulating metabolic processes and circulation.
An added benefit of LASER light therapy is that it may actually increase the formation of new capillaries in the damaged tissue. New capillaries will improve circulation, creating new pathways through which the blood may flow. This formation is responsible for closing open wounds and reducing scar tissue in traumatic injuries.
Aristotle and Hippocrates, considered the fathers of medicine, spoke of the therapeutic properties of magnets (or lodestones) around 200 BC. Today, "rare earth magnets" can be applied to the body and limbs of animals through an array of blankets and wraps typically secured by hook and loop closures or plastic buckles and snaps. The horse industry has mainly anecdotal evidence to support the use of magnets as pain relief but those stories are abundant and affirming.
State-of-the-art magnetic technology uses frequency modulated pulsing electromagnetic fields (FM PEMF). Richard T. Vallbona at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston organized and conducted a study of magnetics and pulsating magnetic therapy. In this double-blind study, results demonstrated a significant improvement in a performance scale not just in fatigue level, mobility, reduced muscle stiffness and vision but also in the cognitive function of the patients. When administered by a caregiver who is knowledgeable in the use FM PEMF it is an invaluably effective tool in increasing circulation and promoting healing.
A relative newcomer to the field of pain relief and healing by increasing circulation are lines of textile products that modify the spectrum of visible and invisible light, interact with certain wavelengths and alter them into energy. A specific study conducted in Texas by Dr. Graham McClue demonstrated that all subjects wearing these fabrics showed improved oxygen levels in their blood, some by as much as 25 percent. Physiologically, horses and humans are quite different but the dynamics of these products seem to be effective on all mammals.
- remove lactic acid
- stimulate endorphins
- promote healing
When used in saddle pads, wraps and sheets, the material discourages the growth of bacteria and parasites.
Perhaps there is nothing more beneficial to the health and healing of our horses than choosing from among the plethora of products designed to provide quality circulation.
A horseowner since age 13, Brenda Thoma has shown competitively for nearly three decades. Always curious about what lies beneath the exterior of horses and people, she is interested in alternative health therapies, psychology, yoga and distance running. Recently, Brenda resigned her ?office job,? simplifying her life to include her passion for writing. A regular contributor to Holistic Horse, she lives in Annandale, Minnesota, with her husband David, son Grant, and daughter Lauren. Fabrics are woven with materials that increase circulation. Liniments massaged into the skin have healing effects.
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