With massages, chiropractic care, touch therapy, and other manual therapy approaches, one could say that today’s horses are living the high life. But just how effective are these modalities in relieving back pain? According to one researcher, they can be very effective if applied properly.

At the 2011 American Association of Equine Practitioners convention, held Nov. 18-22 in San Antonio, Texas, Kevin Haussler, DVM, DC, PhD, Dipl. ACVSMR (Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation), assistant professor at Colorado State University’s Equine Orthopaedic Research Center, described what scientists know about the efficacy of manual therapies for thoracolumbar (the horse’s back forward of the pelvis) dysfunction.

"The use of touch, massage, or manipulation of painful articulations or tense muscles is arguably one of the oldest and most universally accepted forms of therapy to relieve pain and suffering," Haussler began. "Firmly grasping an acutely injured thumb after a misdirected hammer blow or rubbing a sore muscle or stiff joint after a long day’s work are simple and often effective methods of providing short-term pain relief in humans."

Haussler explained that animals naturally behave in a similar manner, "licking, scratching, or rubbing wounds or areas of irritation in an apparent attempt to reduce pain and suffering."

Particularly, he noted, most horses respond favorably to activities involving touch, including grooming, rolling, and rubbing, presumably because it provides them a sense of comfort.

"The goal of manual therapy is to restore normal joint motion, stimulate neurologic r