laser therapy to treat soft tissue injuries in horses

Class IV laser therapy offers promise for improved healing

The chances for recovery from tendon and ligament injuries that were once career-ending are improving, thanks to a wide range of regenerative therapies brought from human medicine into equine rehabilitation. However, tendon healing still takes a long time, and the re-injury rates remain high.

Physiotherapists have been using laser therapy technology in people for nearly 40 years. It has become a routine part of treatment to provide pain relief and healing in humans and is increasingly used to encourage healing in horses.

Martha Rodgers, VMD, owner of Shephard Hill Equine, in Lexington, Kentucky, uses a Class IV laser regularly to treat muscle injury or soreness, tendon and ligament injuries, and wounds. In one recent case a Thoroughbred sales yearling had a 30-by-40-centimeter (an almost 12-by-16-inch) laceration to his pectoral area two months before a sale. The triangle-shaped flap of skin was devitalized and had to be excised. Just four days after the injury Rodgers began a series of high-power laser treatments.

“Within three weeks the wound was nearly healed,” she says. “It had reduced to a 10-by-10-centimeter area that was rapidly epithelializing and contracting, and he successfully went into the sale with only a small scar.

“When it comes to wound healing, the earlier in the process Class IV laser treatment is started the more profound the healing,” she adds.

When researcher Mathilde Pluim, PhD, a faculty member at Ghent University, in Belgium, first encountered high-power laser therapy in horses, little concrete data on the therapy existed, and the evidence at that point was clinical (i.e., not yet supported by controlled, peer-reviewed published research) and anecdotal. She and other researchers are committed to changing that. Recent study results are confirming high-power laser therapy significantly improves short- and long-term healing of tendon and ligament lesions, creating an exciting option for treating these soft tissue injuries.

“For equine orthopedics, it is interesting to explore therapeutic options … that were already successfully being applied in human orthopedics,” she says.

Here’s what you need to know about Class IV laser treatments, the current research, and opportunities for further

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