“Oh, my aching back!” It’s a complaint heard worldwide and one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor or miss work. So, it’s not hard to imagine what a horse with back pain might feel like. Unfortunately, very few veterinarians are equipped to comprehensively diagnose and treat back pain in horses.

In mid-June, Michigan State University’s (MSU) College of Veterinary Medicine will officially open the McPhail Equine Back Pain Clinic to meet this need. The clinic has a unique combination of professional expertise and state-of-the-art technology that holds great promise for horses with back pain.

According to the clinic’s director, Rob van Wessum, DVM, MS, at least 10-15% of equine lameness problems can be traced to problems in the back. “If we did more research, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the percentage is actually higher,” he says.

“People will often try to treat the lameness as a problem in the leg, when the problem is really in the back.”

Other performance issues, such as bucking, rearing, stiffness, and a general resistance to work can also be signs of a back problem, even if there are no overt signs of lameness, he adds.

In the last three years, Van Wessum has worked with about 500 equine back pain cases at the MSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH), and he reports that nearly all are now performing at their original level or higher. By opening a clinic at the VTH specifically devoted to this area, he hopes to bring this success to a wider audience.

Van Wessum himself is part of the formula for success. In addition to his 17 years of clinical expertise as a sport horse lameness clinician, he has experience as an internationally known rider, trainer, and judge. Combine that with the advanced technology and research available at MSU, and you get dramatic results.

Van Wessum uses