In 1982, I was working as an athletic trainer when a veterinarian came in for help in rehabilitating a sprained ankle. As I applied electrical stimulation and range of motion exercise, I asked him what would be done for a horse with a similar injury. He told me of blistering and firing and of extended stall rest, followed by turnout. This concept of rehabilitation was counter to everything an athletic trainer does to control pain and promote functionality. An idea was born. From that moment on, I was determined to pursue and promote the concept of treating the rehabilitation of the equine athlete with the same level of care that is given to human athletes.
In the early 1980s, there was little published scientific literature about light-tissue interaction or about the mechanism of action of therapeutic ultrasound and electrical stimulation. No research in this area used horses as subjects, and veterinarians and horsemen were skeptical of the effects of physical agents. The value of electrical stimulation, therapeutic ultrasound, photon therapy, laser, stretching, and range of motion exercises was proven case by case. Trainers were soon able to recognize that the signs of acute injury–pain, swelling, and disuse–resolved more rapidly with the use of physical agents. By the mid ’80s, research articles in human sports medicine showed that long periods of immobility predisposed the injured athlete to muscle atrophy, joint stiffness, ulceration of joint cartilage, and soft tissue adhesions. An approach that reduced the inflammatory period of injury, enabling the repair phase to begin rapidly, was welcomed, and equine therapies began to gain their place in sports medicine.
The 1990s brought research that showed the efficacy of physical agents in tissue repair and pain control. Later in the decade, researchers focused on the physical mechanisms of the effects found. It was no longer a question of “Do these therapies work?