The Equine Back: Understanding and Supporting The Muscles

One of the most important areas of the equine body is the back and its muscles as it supports the majority of the horse’s body and stabilization. Understanding how the back functions and applying PEMF for support may improve the overall health and vitality of one of the most challenging areas.

Terminology: Back Vs. Topline

One of the most interchanged names in equine anatomy is the back or topline, but which one is correct? Technically, both are correct, but what really matters is what specific parts of the body fall under that category.
The back is often referred to as the area where the rider sits. This falls right behind the withers and just before the croup. Some people include the withers to the tail head in their assessment of the back. Either way, the back usually includes the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae and an array of superficial and deep muscles, including the Longissimus Dorsi and Trapezius muscles.
This collection of bones and muscles not only supports the rider but are the components that help to keep the internal organs of the horse in their proper place. The development of these muscles caters well to performance horses by providing balance and strength to increase their range of motion. Developing the back is a central focus area for many owners and riders, but many factors go into developing and supporting the equine back.

Working The Core Muscles Helps The Back Muscles

One of the most efficient ways to build muscle in a horse’s back is to focus on core work. The more the horse controls its core, the more stable and strong the back becomes.

Strengthening and conditioning exercises are often applied to training programs to build muscle and create suppleness in the horse for better movement. With most training, the goal is to build and increase the range of motion in the body while keeping the back stable. Incorporating exercises that focus on the core allows horses to round their back, working those muscles to create stability. Here are a few common ways that help engage the core muscles:
  • Utilizing cavalettis in lessons– these jumps can be used in any equestrian style, and are a wonderful opportunity for a horse to strengthen their muscles
  • Hill work– having the horse back up a hill is an especially good method for muscle development
  • Proper back stretches and exercises- these are usually recommended by veterinarians, chiropractors, osteopaths, massage therapists, and physical therapists
Building a strong foundation and developing the back muscles through exercising the core may lead to the prevention of back issues. But what are some of the problems that can occur in our equine companions, even when their muscles are strong and properly developed?

Common Back Issues

Back issues can interfere with the health of a horse, and being able to recognize these issues will help them to be accessed as early as possible and lead to more effective treatment. The most common back issues are:

Kissing Spine: This disease is the overriding of the spinal processes along the vertebrae, usually between T3-T18 of the horse’s back. These processes normally have space between them to allow for movement; however, with Kissing Spine, there is very little, or even no space. This allows the vertebrae to rub together during movement, which causes equine back pain. The specific cause of Kissing Spine is currently unknown, and it can occur in any breed, although there is a higher risk factor for Warmbloods and Thoroughbreds.

Wobbler’s Syndrome: Wobbler’s occurs when there is a narrowing of the spinal cord due to pressure from malformed or compressed vertebrae. This causes a lack of coordination and ataxia as the primary symptoms. There is also no clear cause for Wobbler’s.

Spondylosis: This is a degenerative condition of the vertebrae in the spine. It can cause a wide range of both back and behavioral issues. It is usually secondary to another issue.

Sacroiliac/Lumbosacral Issues: Both of these types of issues come from the wear and tear of the body while working and can also be caused by injuries.

These issues all have different causes, but their results are all the same. Any of these issues can lead to poor performance, and can cause the athletic career of a horse to slow down or even halt..

Maintaining the health of this important body system is crucial for a healthy horse. Proper training, nutrition, and overall care are the main factors in helping to build and maintain the back, but how can we add PEMF for back support?

Incorporating PEMF Sessions For Back Support

When a horse has been diagnosed with any type of back issue, incorporating PEMF as a part of its recovery can be helpful. Before considering adding PEMF, always speak with the acting veterinarian to make sure it’s an appropriate modality for that horse.

There are several ways that PEMF can benefit the equine back:

When a horse is dealing with chronic back pain, one of the most affected areas is the muscles. When a horse cannot exercise or move properly due to muscle soreness, over time the muscles begin to weaken and atrophy. When incorporating PEMF, it may support those muscles by helping to decrease muscle soreness.[3] Generating more energy for the cells to work properly allows the body to engage its muscles, which helps to keep them active.

Relaxation is another area that may be supported with PEMF. The recovery period is very important with any horse. The horse will not experience recovery unless they rest.

PEMF’s soothing feel, along with restorative possibilities, allows horses to succumb to the activation of their Parasympathetic Nervous System.[4,5] The most common sign of this activation is licking and chewing. When horses can relax their tense muscles, the body can relax and recover.

Intensity and Positions To Support The Back

The horse should always determine the intensity of the pulse, especially when they are experiencing pain. Because of this heightened sensitivity due to pain in the horse’s back, always start with low intensity PEMF, and gradually increase to the comfort of the animal.

If you are using a spark gap machine, keep the dial turned very low, and increase slowly.

When using an XL Pro, start with low MFS (1-10%) and gradually increase. We recommend not going over 25% MFS for horses for the first couple of sessions. The PPS should be set in the 1-2 range. Look for relaxation signs in horses like overall tension leaving the body, licking and chewing, stretching, and a lowered head.

Let’s look at some pulsing positions for supporting a horse with back issues:

Pulsing the superficial and deep pectoral muscles is a great position. This allows you to support the core, which is excellent for developing back muscles. Use your large loops, double stacked, to target these areas. Slide the loops back and forth as the muscles require.
Utilizing your medium or small loops to focus on very specific areas can be beneficial too. Some areas of the back are more affected than others, based on the underlying health issue. Focusing on those areas for about 20 minutes can provide great support

Keeping this simple position but using the velcro strips to pull the loops together over the back is a great way to focus the PEMF in that area. This position can cover a lot of space, especially if you are utilizing our XL and XXL Loops.

Because of the crucial role a horse’s back plays, ensuring the proper development and maintenance should be a top priority for any equestrian. Whether you utilize the soothing and restorative effects of PEMF, training exercises, or proper and effective stretches, understanding the current health of the horse’s back can help define the best wellness regimen.

If you have any questions on PEMF and how it can support the equine body, please give Pulse PEMF a call at 770-334-2226 or email us at info@pulsepemf.com.

[3,4,5]To locate the citations referenced above, visit info.pulsepemf.com/research.

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