Physical Therapy Returns Horses To Competition Ring More Rapidly

A horse that requires surgical intervention for a bout of colic isn’t out of the woods as soon as he come out of anesthesia. His recovery period can be fraught with complications as his abdominal muscles have been damaged: the surgeon must cut through them to access the origin of the pain. This incision will alter the function of the skeletal muscles.

Drs. Hillary Clayton and Narelle Stubbs of Michigan State University have developed a series of physical therapy exercises that can be completed after the horse’s surgery is complete to help strengthen the horse’s core and back muscles. Dubbed the core abdominal rehabilitation exercise (CARE) program, the rehabilitation begins 30 days post-surgery and recommends four weeks of in-hand strengthening exercises. These exercises include lumbar lifts and limbering exercises that ask the horse to move his chin to his withers, chest, knees and fetlocks.

A study was done to determine if the CARE program allowed horses to return to work or to competition more rapidly than not implementing rehabilitation exercises post-surgery. Owners of horses that had had colic surgery between 2008 and 2017 were given the option of taking part in the CARE program. Those owners who chose to engage their horse in the program received a manual, DVD and schedule to follow. Horses that were alive one year after the colic surgery were able to be included in the study.

There were 62 total horses used for the study; 11 horses had completed the CARE protocol and 51 did not complete the program. Researchers reviewed each horse’s medical records and sent out surveys asking about the horse’s post-op care and progress. Questions included for how long the horse was on stall rest after surgery as well as the timeline on surgery, the beginning of work and the return to full training and competition. They were also asked how the horse was performing one year after the surgery.

Results showed that horses that participated in the CARE rehab program returned to work more quickly: On average within 60 days while the control horses returned to work in 90 days. CARE horses returned to full work in 75 days, versus the control horse’s 120 days it took to return to full work.

The researchers concluded that the CARE protocol is beneficial post-surgery, but that it may also be helpful during any recovery that includes long periods of rest for the horse.

Read more at EQUUS magazine.

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