Horse Hydrotherapy: A veterinary perspective.

Why Hydrotherapy Works for Leg Injuries in Horses.

Traditionally horses were stood in cold running streams or walked in the sea as an aid to the treatment and prevention of leg problems and, today, cold hosing is a standard modality for cooling down horses after exercise.

Sea water in particular with its high salt content has an anti-inflammatory effect which facilitates healing and helps guard against injury. However, the temperature may not normally be sufficiently cold enough to affect the structures most often involved in injury.

To properly understand how Equine Spa low temperature hydrotherapy works we need to review how the body reacts to the trauma of strains, cuts and bruises.

When soft tissue is injured through a cut, tear or by concussive trauma the body releases enzymes and proteins causing the blood vessel walls in that vicinity to dilate and become more porous.

Lymphocytes are directed to the site of the trauma passing through the porous membranes and entering the injured tissues to begin fighting the infection. The extra fluids, carrying the oxygen and proteins for tissue repair, pool around the injured area causing edema or swelling which helps to immobilise the injury. Tissue damage also triggers the secretion of hormones which cause much of the pain the horse feels in order to prevent overuse of the affected limb. Additionally, the increased blood flow to the site of the injury results in a rise in temperature in the tissues in that vicinity.

The three main symptoms of inflammation, namely pain, heat, and swelling, occur in varying degrees depending on the site, nature, and severity of the injury.

The downside of inflammation is that it may rage out of control and hinder the healing process resulting in secondary tissue damage or hypoxic injury, which can compound the problem. In addition, blood vessels in the area are put under increasing pressure by the fluid build-up, thereby slowing down the flow of blood and lymphatic fluid.

The safest way to break the destructive cycle of secondary cell injury and excess swelling is to use the horse's circulatory system to sweep away excess fluids that have collected in the tissues.

While anti-inflammatory agents such as bute reduce swelling and heat, they may also mask pain confusing the diagnostic picture. Also, the use of corticosteroids to control heat and inflammation may have the disadvantage of shutting down the whole healing process.

The two natural ways of encouraging the dispersal of excess fluids are the application of heat or cold. Heat, however, is not normally applied to an acute injury which leaves us with cold.

See also the How Equine Spa Hydrotherapy Works section to complete the picture.

"I have seen first hand the beneficial effects on the healing process in both a suspensory branch lesion and on a superficial digital flexor tendon lesion.

The healing process proceeded more rapidly and with a better fibre pattern, as confirmed on ultrasound, than would have occurred otherwise.

I am excited about using this modality in the future for the management of soft tissue injuries."

Brendan W. Furlong, M.V.B, M.R.C.V.S. of New Jersey, USA

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