Equine Physical Therapy

How does Physical Therapy relate to horses and to veterinary medicine? According to Haussler, the veterinary community can learn a lot from physical therapists about taking a proactive approach to equine rehab.
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A few months ago, a friend of mine came limping up the barn aisle on crutches. She explained sheepishly that she’d taken a tumble off her bicycle, badly spraining an ankle in the process. Her rehab regimen would entail staying off her horse, keeping the ankle in a brace, and making regular visits to a physical therapist for rigorous sessions designed to help the injured tissues heal while restoring the joint’s strength and range of motion.

I couldn’t help comparing my friend’s rehab regimen with that of a horse at the barn, who at that same time was on four months of prescribed stall rest after suffering a soft tissue hindquarter injury. The horse’s owner told me that veterinarians had been able to offer few therapeutic suggestions other than "rest him and hope the injury heals with time."

Kevin Haussler, DVM, DC, PhD, of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, N.Y., finds it frustrating that the field of human physical therapy (PT) is so advanced, and yet PT principles and techniques are largely untapped by the veterinary community. PT incorporates such techniques as the application of heat and cold, massage, stretching, electrostimulation, manipulation, and bodywork, he says–techniques that the horse world might recognize as equine sports massage, the Tellington Touch, and equine chiropractic–but many veterinarians and horse owners regard these and other modalities as so-called "alternative" therapies and not part of mainstream veterinary medicine. He and several like-minded associates, including human physical therapist and soon-to-be veterinary technician Linda McGonagle, MSPT, of Genoa, N.Y., are working to advance the efforts of a new association for veterinary physical therapy. Haussler and McGonagle discussed their hopes of revolutionizing the ways by which equine practitioners help horses reach–or recapture–their athletic potential.

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Jennifer O. Bryant is editor-at-large of the U.S. Dressage Federation’s magazine, USDF Connection. An independent writer and editor, Bryant contributes to many equestrian publications, has edited numerous books, and authored Olympic Equestrian. More information about Jennifer can be found on her site, www.jenniferbryant.net.

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