Science & Equine

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Written by Els Smet
Posted in Manual therapy

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Physiotherapy assessment in the equine athlete

Horses with movement dysfunction are diagnosed by an equine physiotherapist through a functional assessment where clinical reasoning is key. The physiotherapist observes the horse in movement, palpates tissues and articular structures and passively tests the joints. Neurological testing is occasionally necessary to come to a full diagnosis.

The physiotherapist starts by observing the horse in a physically taxing exercise, such as trotting poles, to determine any functional problems. Next, the physiotherapist palpates the soft structures for information regarding temperature, irritability, muscle tone, swelling, and general reactivity. Palpation can be along or across the muscle fibres, and speed will vary the reactivity.

Equine physiotherapists are also skilled at palpating and moving joints of the vertebral column and periphery. Passive physiological assessment of the joint occurs when the joint is passively moved throughout the entire physiological range of motion. Furthermore, passive accessory testing involves assessment of the motion between the joint surfaces applied to the joint by the therapist. True passive testing of the vertebral column is difficult in standing as the back is under tension.

Neurological testing can be done in the forelimb on the ulnar, median and radial nerves and in the sciatic and femoral nerves in the hind leg. It is important to compare both sides and to be aware of increased tension during these tests.

To conclude, equine physiotherapists use a variety of functional tools to establish a diagnosis in horses with reduced perfomance. 

>Goff, Vet Clin North Am Equine Pract., 2016 Apr;32(1):31-47. All rights reserved to 2016 Elsevier Inc. Click here for the Pubmed summary

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