Remember the last time you rolled out of bed in the morning feeling like you must have slept with your neck contorted like a noodle? The lingering stiffness lasts all day, making simple things like dressing and driving a pain. Now, imagine you’re a horse with neck pain–consider how uncomfortable it would be to move in a frame, on the bit, to flex and bend and be expressive in your gaits, while battling an ache that just doesn’t go away.
Sue Dyson, VetMB, PhD, FRCVS, head of Clinical Orthopaedics at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket, England, spoke on neck pain in sport horses at the Florida Association of Equine Practitioners (FAEP) Promoting Excellence Symposium, held Sept. 27-29, 2007, at the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island, the Bahamas. She noted that neck pain can manifest itself through a wide variety of clinical signs, which can make correct diagnosis difficult. This pain can result from a number of factors, including trauma, muscle injury, fracture or displacement of a vertebra, or osteoarthritis.
Some of the more typical clinical signs horses with a neck problem might present include stiffness, muscle atrophy, patchy sweating, shortened forelimb stride, forelimb lameness, and abnormal head carriage. Dyson also noted that she’s seen cases of horses getting their necks "stuck" in a fixed, low position, unable to move and exhibiting considerable distress. (These horses might resolve spontaneously, or they can sometimes be "released" through manipulation. She noted that this is typically associated with enlarged facet joints–the articulating surfaces between the vertebrae– with some remodeling.)