How equine rehabilitation can benefit from physiotherapy

what is equine rehabilitation

Physiotherapy, which is a very common treatment in human medicine following a surgery or injury, is actually becoming much more popular in the rehabilitation of horses as well.

It includes a number of forms of manual manipulation, exercise prescription, electrotherapy and other treatments that may benefit the equine athletes as well as weekend warriors affected by lameness issues or undergoing important recoveries.

The key area of physiotherapy when it comes to horses is studying the musculoskeletal system. This involves evaluation, treatment and eventually rehabilitation of neuromuscular and musculoskeletal ailments. Functional biomechanics and exercise physiology are the main sciences supporting the profession.

Physiotherapists can provide a functional evaluation to identify loss of function/performance and pain caused by a physical injury or disability. When the cause has been determined, a wide range of treatment techniques can be provided, specifically designed to restore movement as well as function and to allow the horse to eventually return to optimal performance.

Types of therapy

Treatments include a variety of techniques, including manual therapy, for instance, joint mobilization, muscle re-education by stretching and strengthening and movement patterning exercises. Different modalities may include laser, ultrasound, EMS or electrical muscle stimulation, acupuncture and TENS or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.

A bespoke program tailored to the functional needs of the horse is designed. The goal is also to educate the owner in the well-being of the horse.

Manual therapy

This refers to the practice of therapist-applied passive or assisted active movement techniques for the proper management of pain as well as impairments in the mobility of muscles, joints and neural tissue. Joint mobilisation and manipulation is performed by professional groups, this may include physiotherapists, osteopathic physicians and chiropractors.

Joint mobilisation refers to the slow and passive movements applied to joints and surrounding soft tissue. The purpose is to increase joint range of motion. While joint manipulation involves a fast, low-amplitude thrust performed at the limit of the joint’s range. The purpose here is also to increase joint range of motion. Both techniques are actually designed to reduce spasm as well as pain.

Some other manual therapy methods may include myofascial release, different types of massage and active release therapy. These are all hands-on techniques applied to muscle and surrounding tissue to alleviate pain as well as spams and to eventually help restore motion. A wide range of equine rehabilitation equipment, devices and techniques can be used to carry out these pain-relieving therapies.


This is actually an umbrella term utilised to identify a wide range of treatments including the use of sound waves (with ultrasounds) and light (with lasers) as well as electrostimulation of nerves and muscles to treat physical injuries.


Electrostimulation is the application of a low/medium frequency electrical current to stimulate sensory and motor nerves, in order to produce or facilitate muscle contractions, and also to provide relief of pain.

Muscle stimulation is used after surgery or injury when there is a loss of strength of a muscle. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation is utilised to help reduce pain and the associated spasm.

Electrodes are applied over the bulk of the muscle; over nerves; over motor points; over acupuncture points, or also directly over the area that is generating pain. A gel needs to be placed under the electrode. This will allow the current to pass through more efficiently. The horse’s hair needs to be clipped to lower the resistance to the passage of current.

Treatment times can vary from fifteen to sixty minutes. They are shorter, in the beginning, to help the horse familiarise with the feelings and sensations associated with the stimulation and also to reduce any anxiety that could be generated by the process.


This is the application of sound waves to the body to achieve a therapeutic effect. The sound waves affect the cells and can stimulate healing. They are absorbed by connective tissue like ligaments, joint capsules, fascia, tendons and muscle.

The main goal of ultrasound here is healing the tissue, and it can actually be utilised at any stage of recovery or whenever healing is delayed. Pain relief and swelling reduction as well as muscle spasm are also parallel effects of this therapy.

A gel is applied over the area in question and the sound head is moved in a circular pattern. This process is painless. Treatment time is usually between 6 and 10 minutes.


Laser or Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation is a form of energy utilised to improve healing of open wounds, ulcers as well as soft tissue injuries like tendonitis.

The type and frequency of the wavelength utilised over the area of injury as well as the duration of the treatment will depend on a number of factors. It varies from patient to patient. This process is pain-free.

But it has been shown that the radiation of the laser beam can potentially be damaging to the retina of an eye, so it needs to be used with extreme care and always special protective glasses have to be worn while providing a laser treatment.

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