Hey #TeamVE, Caroline here, with a new blog for you! Today I am going to start by sharing a story about my own horse that was diagnosed with a torn deep digital flexor tendon. Then I am going to discuss the parallel stages of recovery that both human and equine athletes must undergo to rehabilitate post-injury.
While many of you are aware of my background in Kinesiology and rehabilitation, some may not be aware of how I started equine performance massage therapy. I mean the first reason is pretty obvious, it was because of Miss Brigitte!! If you have had the pleasure of meeting Brigitte there is no further explanation needed, if you have not…picture the funniest, kindest person you know and times it by 20.
The second reason was due to an injury sustained by one of my own horses. Following numerous vet appointments, my good head horse was diagnosed with a torn deep digital flexor tendon (DFT). The extent of the tear was unknown without an MRI to confirm; therefore the ‘next’ steps were endless. After a year on stall rest with very light activity…aka me hand walking him because he would run and buck every chance he got, I met Brigitte. I picked her brain probably to the point where she was thinking I was crazy, trying to find a method to help ease him into exercise. A lot of my questions were rooted out of my knowledge of physiotherapy and helping people recover from injuries, but growing up equine rehabilitation wasn’t a common thing. Without any hesitation she demonstrated a variety of exercises to perform to prevent muscle atrophy during stall rest and stretches to help with SI stiffness due to stall rest. I had this one discussion with Brigitte and was in awe.
This was it! This is what I have been helping human athletes do the last two years. Helping them with recovering from injuries, rehabilitating their ligaments and muscles in order for them to perform to the best of their abilities. So I thought to myself why isn’t this more common among our equine athletes? Why wouldn’t we do for them what we do for ourselves? If you have learned anything from my last blogs, the first thing I did when I went home after talking to Brigitte was...I GOOGLED. I read up on more equine rehabilitation papers than I care to admit and the consensus was the same. There are three main areas of concern when considering equine rehabilitation:
Removal of Pain
Not to my surprise, these are the same steps taken during human rehabilitation. The first stage primarily focuses on the inflammation period. In most cases inflammation can cause an increase pressure on the surrounding structures and thus if you decrease the inflammation you also decrease pain. Often when I treat human patients, I describe this stage in terms of your brain fighting your body. If your brain is constantly telling your body to “protect” the area of inflammation the body doesn’t have a chance to heal itself. Therefore, controlling the inflammation in the acute stages of an injury is crucial, and your veterinary professional will help you with that stage.
Restoration of Range of Motion
Restoring range of motion is going to be a huge factor in the function of the joint, muscles or ligaments. When assessing people this is a huge step in achieving full performance, quite often this stage is overlooked, and athletes are very quick to jump into the strength training. If this stage is overlooked and you are not moving through the full and correct joint range you can inherently cause inappropriate muscle activations, thus in turn muscle imbalances. Often if the structure isn’t functioning appropriately, the opposing structure whether it be joint, muscle or ligament will become more susceptible to injury. It’s so important to not miss this step, for both humans and horses.
Restoration of Strength
The final step in recovery is strength restoration. This occurs when the athlete is pain free and has regained full range of motion. As with any training program this should be done slowly and gradually, focusing on not only the larger muscle groups but also the smaller stabilizer muscles. If at any point there is some form of ‘set back’ during training it is important to start all the way at stage one, as to not overlook any inflammation or decreased range of motion.
At the end of the day we are so lucky that our bodies, and our equine athletes’ bodies are so adaptable. They have evolved for thousands of years to be able to handle inflammation, and pain and to be able to generate new cells and neural pathways to heal themselves. However our bodies being sooo adaptable is also the caveat, as they can also adapt to the pain with compensatory mechanisms and carry on as if nothing is wrong. Therefore, it is of the utmost important as horse owners, that we facilitate the healing of our horse’s injuries with veterinary care, a comprehensive massage program and intentional training exercises to promote the correct movements, and not the compensatory ones.