Q&A for equine osteopathy

What is Osteopathy?

Osteopathy is an holistic therapy that works on the principle that the body is always striving to heal itself. Unlike other manual therapies, Osteopathy considers how structure and function are interrelated and encompass the movement of the whole body, not just the area of pain or dysfunction. When an Osteopath looks at the body, they will assess postural imbalances and gait abnormalities before looking more closely at how individual muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints are being held under strain.

Osteopathy is a protected title, and all Osteopaths must study for four years to gain a masters degree in human practice. In order to treat animals, a further one year of study is required. The depth of study for this qualification requires extensive medical knowledge, therefore all osteopaths will be confident in determining a musculoskeletal injury from an illness that requires medical or veterinary attention.

An Osteopathic treatment consists of moving, stretching and manipulating joints and tissues to improve flexibility as well nerve, blood and lymph supply. Osteopaths have a very highly developed sense of touch, because of this treatment is therapeutic and relaxing and does not need to be painful or invasive. This type of treatment has a positive effect on all of the body’s systems, which means that you will see improvement in issues relating to injury, pain, performance, digestion, circulation and behaviour to name just a few.


Why is Osteopathy different from other therapies?

Osteopaths abide by some core principles which ensure that the whole body is taken into consideration when presented with a problem or injury. This ensures that the the root cause of the problem is detected and addressed, rather than just treating the symptoms.

To give an example of how this philosophy works, pain in the back may come from an old injury in the foot. Many types of manual therapy would focus on massaging the muscles of the back, whereas an Osteopath would assess the hips, knees, ankles and feet as well. Massage to the back may help with pain short term, however remaining pain free long term requires optimal movement of all muscles and joints.

Osteopathy is a highly regulated profession, requiring four years of intensive study at the very least. During training Osteopaths will cover all aspects of medical, musculoskeletal and psychological training. This means that your osteopathic physician has the skills and knowledge to give you detailed and reliable advice. The stringent regulations of this profession also require your osteopath to be fully insured and prove that they keep their skills and knowledge up to date every year.


How does Osteopathy apply to horses?

The core principles of osteopathy can be applied to any person or animal. This is because animals move and function using a musculoskeletal system just the same as people do. In order to qualify as an animal osteopath, an additional year of study is required. During this time your osteopath will learn how to apply osteopathic thinking and techniques to the anatomy and physiology of animals.

Your osteopath will be trained to the highest level in detecting specific musculoskeletal injuries as well as recognising illnesses which require veterinary attention. The law requires animal osteopaths to work closely with veterinarians, this ensures that the welfare of your animal is of upmost importance and you are receiving the best treatment from a range of professionals.


What issues can Osteopathy treat?

Horses are often under extreme physical demand, and it is common for training to lead to strains and imbalances within their bodies. Osteopathic treatment can help to decrease the symptoms of dysfunction and prevent future injury by improving flexibility, mobility and balance.

Equine Osteopathy can help with:

  • Pain relief

  • Improving recovery

  • Behavioural issues

  • Performance issues

  • Reducing injury

  • Injury rehabilitation

  • Stiffness in older horses

These issues may present as:

  • Change in behaviour

  • Difficult behaviour (bucking, rearing kicking etc)

  • Unexplained lameness

  • Problems with head carriage

  • Stiffness

  • Lack of willingness

  • Problems with transitions

  • Gait problems

What happens during a treatment?

Every consultation will begin with your osteopath taking a comprehensive case history. This consists of lots of questions about the problem in hand, as well as detailed information about any relevant medical history, accidents or injuries. Obtaining a detailed case history allows your osteopath to create a full picture of any predisposing and maintaining factors of your problem.

After getting to know you and your horse a little, your osteopath will watch your horses movement. Assessing gait patterns, postural imbalances and evasion of pain. Following this a hands on examination of the muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments will guide your osteopath to the problematic area.

Treatment generally addresses the whole body, your osteopath will mobilise, stretch and manipulate muscles and joints to improve the overall function of the musculoskeletal, circulatory, nervous and lymphatic systems. Treatment is mostly gentle and therapeutic and even the most difficult horses relax, and on occasion dose off!


How many sessions will be needed?

Every problem is individual, as is every horse. Due to this it is only possible to give a timeline after the assessment and first treatment of your horse. Usually horses respond very well, you may notice that your horse is still sore for a few days after treatment while the body adapts to the changes. After this improvement is seen quite quickly. Most horses require a follow up treatment in two weeks time, and then a months time, and many owners see the benefit of follow up sessions every two to three months to prevent reoccurrence of injury.

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