Kissing Spines: Common, But Not Career-Ending (AAEP 2011)

Kissing spines are more likely to cause clinical problems in certain breeds, disciplines, and age groups.
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Kissing, while generally considered favorable in its usual context, isn’t always so great when it comes to horses’ vertebral surfaces. Overriding spinous processes–known as kissing spines–can cause severe back pain, according to Tracy Turner, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, but not all horses with the condition have complications because of it. At the 2011 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Nov. 18-22 in San Antonio, Texas, Turner described a study in which he determined kissing spines are more likely to cause clinical problems in certain breeds, disciplines, and ages, and that a particular combination of therapies can produce successful outcomes.

Turner, of Anoka Equine Veterinary Services, in Elk River, Minn., said back pain has been shown to be a major cause of poor performance and clinical signs are highly variable. Such is the case with kissing spines, so he sought to better define the condition, its detection, and treatments.

"It’s not hard to understand why back pain or anything that interferes with a horse’s back will interfere with its movement," said Turner. "Any contraction in the (back) muscles causes ventral (toward the abdomen) flexion of the spine, which makes it impossible for the horse to engage its hind end and meet its athletic potential."

Of 4,407 horses Turner examined for lameness from Feb. 1, 2004, to Jan 31, 2011, 7% of the cases, or 310 horses, displayed back pain (reacted with pain to pressure applied along the topline or resisted or showed agitation to such pressure). He conducted a complete lameness exam, including thermography and radiography, on each of these horses to rule out other potential pain causes. This narrowed the group to 212 horses (68% of the back pain horses) with kissing spines

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Written by:

Stephanie L. Church, Editorial Director, grew up riding and caring for her family’s horses in Central Virginia and received a B.A. in journalism and equestrian studies from Averett University. She joined The Horse in 1999 and has led the editorial team since 2010. A 4-H and Pony Club graduate, she enjoys dressage, eventing, and trail riding with her former graded-stakes-winning Thoroughbred gelding, It Happened Again (“Happy”). Stephanie and Happy are based in Lexington, Kentucky.

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