Athlete sidelined with an injured tendon, ligament, or a chip fracture of a carpal bone? Surgery may or may not be part of the treatment, but rehabilitation therapy most likely is—whether the athlete has two legs or four.

“Physical therapy and rehabilitation play an important role in performance enhancement, injury prevention, and restoration of full function during recovery from injury,” says Santiago Gutierrez-Nibeyro, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, ACVSMR, an equine surgeon at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana. Gutierrez-Nibeyro, who is boarded in equine surgery, recently also became a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation.

“Similar to high-performance human athletes, performance horses frequently encounter musculoskeletal injuries of various severities,” says Gutierrez-Nibeyro. “Restoration of functional limb movement is the key to recovery from these sports-related injuries.”

Typically, a horse must be rested after an injury, and this period of inactivity can cause disuse atrophy—a decrease in the size of a muscle, cartilage, ligaments, and so on. Inactivity also leads to decreased range of motion of the joints as well as shortening and decreased range of motion in the muscles.

Most horses that have been rested in a stall due to an injury have shortened limb excursion, lack of agility, and visible signs of discomfort once they are moving again. When horses undergo rehabilitation as their musculoskeletal system heals, these deficits can be lessened or prevented.

“The goal of rehabilitation is to restore the normal function of th