What’s a Thumper?

My training is in equine myotherapy and sometimes I get asked about a thumper. Can you tell me more about this tool?
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Q: My training is in equine myotherapy; I specialize in sports massage, stretching, and hydrotherapy. Sometimes I get asked about a thumper. I have an idea of what it is and its use, but am not sure if I’m correct. The only thing I am sure of is that I heard one horse sustained a serious back injury from the use of a thumper. Can you supply me with information on this tool and perhaps what it looks like?

A: “Thumper” is a brand name for a type of mechanical massage unit. There are many name brands available. The unit has oscillating heads that vibrate up and down to provide an invigorating massage, and it has a control for adjusting intensity. Some people prefer mechanical vibrators or massage units to their own hands, since horses have such a large group of muscles to work on. If massaging entire horses, your hands often get very tired if you are not accustomed to it.

The one concern with using any mechanical device versus your own hands is that if the animal resents the applied pressure, you might not readily know it if you do not have your hands in direct contact with the horse. The mechanical units also might provide a more intense massage that might not be well tolerated or appropriate for every horse, or might be contraindicated for some muscle injuries. Another concern with mechanical massage units that are designed for people is that they might not be appropriately designed for horses. Dust and hair from horses often work into the massage units and cause them to wear out rapidly, which is not a major concern when working on humans.

Human massage therapists have extensive professional training and are introduced to a wide variety of massage modalities. It’s important to recognize that the training for “equine myotherapy certification” varies widely; this is a good reason for more extensive, stringent, and professionally recognized training requirements for anyone involved in equine massage therapy–veterinarians and veterinary technicians included

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Written by:

Kevin K. Haussler, DVM, DC, PhD, Dipl. ACVSMR, graduated from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1988 before completing a small animal internship. To further his training in conservatively managing spinal-related disorders, he pursued human training at Palmer College of Chiropractic-West and completed a veterinary chiropractic certification program in 1993. He completed his PhD, focusing on spinal pathology and pelvic biomechanics in Thoroughbred racehorses, from the University of California, Davis, and then studied equine spinal kinematics at Cornell University. While at Cornell, he directed the newly formed large and small animal Integrative Medicine Service. Currently, Haussler is an associate professor at the Colorado State University (CSU) Orthopaedic Research Center, where he’s involved in teaching, clinical duties, and researching. He is a charter diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation and a course instructor for the Equine Rehabilitation Certification course, co-branded by the University of Tennessee and CSU.

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