How to avoid and treat agility injuries for a long and fruitful agility career.
It’s a well known fact that for all the amazing benefits Agility offers dogs and their handlers and the relationship between both, it can be a hard sport physically on the dog (and the handler, but that’s another story!). Injuries can be either acute or chronic in nature, and management of the inherent risks presented by obstacles such as A-frames, jumps and seesaws is an important part of making sure your dog gets to have a long and enjoyable agility career. Factors which add to the risk of agility are the speed at which the dog is travelling, the tight lines often needed to navigate today’s courses and the athleticism required to traverse these obstacles, all of which leave the dog open to repetitive stress on various parts of their body as well as potential falls from or hitting the obstacle.
From a training perspective it is very worthwhile to aim to minimise the repetitive nature of the work the dog does, especially with young dogs whose growth plates are still very susceptible to damage from excess and repetitive pressure. Keeping the work they do varied, while practicing the skills might look like breaking the exercise down into small chunks and practicing each part at a slower more controlled pace to perfect the skill, then building those parts to perform the full obstacle. Working on many small varied parts of the greater task, at a slower pace, allows the trainer and dog to refine their skills and communication while avoiding many high speed repetitions of the full obstacle.
As mentioned above, injury to growth plates in young dogs is one worry when involved in intense competitive training, and this is largely mitigated by changing the way the dog is worked at least until physical maturity. Other risks such as sprains, strains, contusions (bruising from hitting an obstacle) and postural changes due to repetitive movements of an asymmetrical nature can be more readily managed or mitigated with the help of Osteopathy and other rehabilitation or wellness options such as swimming.
Osteopathically we look at the way the dog is moving and using their body and then palpate (feel) to identify any restrictions in the joints and any tender points, tightness or weakness in the muscles, ligaments or tendons. When identified, gentle manual techniques ranging from soft tissue work (massage like techniques) through to joint manipulation can be applied to restore healthy and full range movement throughout the body. Ensuring that the musculoskeletal system has full movement not only allows these tissues to function well, it also allows the circulatory and nervous systems which have branches running all through these tissues to function optimally. This promotes healing and gives the dog the best chance of recovering fully from any injuries, as well as helping to avoid injuries in the first place.
Agility buffs, your dogs are athletes! Their bodies are working very hard while having an absolute ball, so make sure you give them the benefit of keeping that body working to it’s best ability and you’ll give them the best chance of a long, enjoyable and injury free time leaping and bounding their way through their favourite pastime.
A common problem dog owners find themselves facing is when their beloved dog develops a habit of excessively licking a paw or leg, or sometimes even a body part to the point a sore develops. Often this is put down to anxiety, however it is often also triggered by a pain sensation which either becomes chronic, thus the dog continues giving it attention, or becomes a comforting habit. In the case of a chronic irritation, this can be as a result of localised pain, referred pain or pain in another area which causes the dog to seek comfort and the feel-good endorphin release provided by the licking behaviour. Similar to the way we humans rub a sore muscle or joint, our dogs find the best way they can to manage the discomfort.
Obviously if open sores are present we will want the owner to be consulting a vet for investigation for underlying factors such as parasites, allergies and arthritic joints amongst other sources as well as for topical management strategies, whether that be antibiotics, antifungals, antihistamines etc to help settle the local tissue response. An Elizabethan collar may also be an appropriate strategy to help break the licking habit and protect the skin while the underlying problem is addressed. From an Osteopathic perspective there is much we can do to help alleviate this discomfort.
One of the most common sources of lick sores when no definitive underlying problem has been identified is referred pain or nerve pain from a more central restriction or dysfunction in the body. In these cases, we search for tissues and joints around the spine, limb and associated areas which can alter the function of the nerves, blood vessels and pain sensitive structures all the way to the tip of the toes. If you’ve ever sat on your leg or slept on your arm and then moved to find your limb initially ‘dead’, closely followed by a strong pins and needles sensation or many other odd sensations associated with nerve and blood flow restriction, you’re sure to be able to picture the sensations your dog is trying to ease. By finding these kinds of restrictions in the tissues it is often possible to create take enough pressure off these sensitive structures which may allow the dog to return his attention to the more fun things in life.
So what exactly are these hip flexors we’ve been speaking of, and why are they so darn important to the horse rider??
The iliopsoas is one of the very important factors in achieving a symmetrical seat. I find if the hip flexors as a group are not working well through a full normal range of motion there will be huge struggles with trying to maintain even and effective seat and leg aids. There will also be knock on effects on the upper body and aids from there also.
As you can see below, they attach to the front of the spine and the inside of the pelvis before running down through the pelvis to attach onto the inner thigh. They act to draw the knee up towards the body, and as such are a muscle group which is in a shortened position whenever we spend time sitting, either at a desk or in a car during out work days. They also play a huge role in stabilising the hip in a slightly flexed position, during many activities throughout the day. The very act of sitting on a horse puts the hip flexors into a slightly shortened position and, especially when the true core muscles aren’t doing their fair share, as soon as the horse begins to move we begin to use the hip flexors to help keep us upright and stable over the horses centre of gravity. To add to this complex system of controlling the hip and the core, we must consider the role the gluteal muscles (your butt!) play.
When tight, the hip flexors hold the hip joint in a position of slight flexion, and this is where the problems begin. In a neutral standing position this causes the pelvis to tip forwards and the lumbar spine to be pulled into extension (an increased arch in the lower back). This looks like the first mounted position we saw in the picture in Part 1.
Tightness in the hip flexors is usually also associated with other predictable muscular imbalances around the hips, pelvis and lower back, the most crucial of which is a weak abdominal core and gluteal muscles and a tight lower back and hamstrings . This pattern is often referred to as Lower Crossed Syndrome and creates for the rider a position of ‘duck butt’, lack of suppleness through the lower back, knees which grip and ride up in front of the centre of gravity and a lower leg and heel which just won’t stay where it belongs.
A strong core is crucial for a riders stability in the saddle, and may be the difference between sticking that awkward jump or unexpected stop or not. It also is crucial for allowing the rider to apply effective seat aids. The sum of these imbalances cause the body to move less freely and with less control than the ideal. Often one side is more restricted than the other and this is where many cases of short-stirrup-itis and dropping your hip or tilting one way originate from.
How does this affect your horse? From the seat alone, if one hip flexor is pulling tighter than the other, a tilt to one side is likely to occur. Looking at the shape of the pelvis in the picture above, you can see that tilting the pelvis to the side (dropping a hip/creasing at the waist) will cause one of your sit bones (ischial tuberosity) to contact the horses back more than the other. Thinking about how sensitive we hope for our horses to be to seat aids, one can instantly see the problems this might cause. The horse who always bends one way or is travelling on three tracks and just can’t seem to straighten no matter how much leg the rider applies, which incidentally feels much stronger one way than the other. The changing or disuniting canter leads. The inability to easily find or maintain the correct diagonal in trot and the horse who looks that little bit lame on one rein in trot but not the other and no clear diagnosis of true lameness can be found. These are just a handful of the problems created by unevenly tight hip flexors and the postural ramifications of such. When both are tight we typically see the proverbial “”duck butt” rider posture. The horse typically reacts by hollowing to escape the increased weight through the tree points and falls onto the forehand as the riders centre of gravity is thrown forward of the ideal. The horses back end then merrily trails out behind him, pretty much precluding any chance of hip engaging from behind and lifting the shoulder. His own core blows in the wind, while yours does the same up top.
In part 3 we will start to look at how you can test these muscle groups in yourself and where to start to unwind this pattern so you can begin to address the associated problems in yourself and your horses performance.
Some may have noticed changes to my logo and business name. These came about after being offered a great opportunity to increase the canine component of my practice. Whilst previously I saw a good amount of dogs in my travels around predominantly equine and human visits, as of the start of January I have been working within the K9 SWiM – Canine Wellness Centre NSW, North Richmond providing osteopathic treatment to the canine members of the family. I am delighted to be able to offer this dedicated time in my schedule for your doggy family members.
The article below appeared in K9 SWiM’s January newsletter and is well worth a read to help understand the work I do with dogs.
Osteopathy has, over the years, become such a huge part of my life. I graduated from UWS in 2003 with a Master of Osteopathy and promptly set about establishing my human practice. Having been a little obsessed with animals since the time I could express my feelings, and having spent my childhood and teen years collecting stray cats, dogs and horses much to my parents hidden delight, it really was no great surprise to anyone that animals would creep into the practice one way or another.
In 2009 I was able to complete, with distinction, the Graduate Diploma of Animal Chiropractic through RMIT in Victoria. This course was the result of an amazing amalgam of Osteopathic, Chiropractic and Veterinary practitioners, with lecturers and tutors from all three fields. Our discussions over meal breaks were educational to say the least! To say this refueled my passion for Osteopathy and it’s potential to make a difference to all creatures, great and small, is a mammoth understatement.
My new qualifications prompted me to take a leap of faith and head overseas to Ireland to focus on the animal side of practice, and I have just after nearly 8 years, returned from a wonderful time living the Irish life while building up strong skills and experience in my practice with horses, dogs and people.
People often ask why on earth a dog might need an Osteopath, and like with horses and humans, the answer isn’t necessarily a quick one.
What is Canine Osteopathy?
Canine Osteopathy is a gentle hands on therapy for dogs which ultimately aims to restore movement wherever in the body it may be lost, and to reduce pain and discomfort resulting from these restrictions. When the joints, muscles, ligaments or tendons, connective tissue or even the vessels and organs of the body aren’t free to move pain and discomfort will often result. Many activities we, and our dogs consider a part of normal daily life, can result in these sorts of restrictions. Degenerative processes due to age, injury, breed predisposition or just bad luck can also create compensation and restriction of free and full range of motion. Helping to reduce the these restrictions can have huge effects on the comfort levels of the dog plus helping dogs gain the most from tailored rehab programmes after surgery and is where Osteopathy holds great value for our beloved animals.
The major goal to Osteopathic treatment is finding and addressing restrictions in movement, the premise being that restricted movement, in any tissue of the body, will reduce the capacity for full health of those tissues. This obviously can result in altered gait, altered ability to carry out normal activities of daily life and predispose the body to injury and/or pain. So with that in mind, the Osteopath primarily uses their hands to find and reduce restrictions in normal movement of the body to allow the natural healing ability to work to its best capacity. That’s the abbreviated version.
The full version is something I’m only too happy to converse at length whenever anyone asks! Even 15 years into my professional life I am still blown away, on an almost daily basis, by how powerful it can be to simply allow a body to move. The changes are often much bigger than even I expect, particularly with animals compared to humans, as they have no preconceived ideas as to what they should or shouldn’t be feeling, and what their pain does or doesn’t mean to their life.
Problems in dogs that Ostepathic treatment can help
So what might an owner see that might give them cause to think an Osteopath could help?
Obvious lameness especially if of uncertain origin
Is your dog suddenly throwing in an occasional hop or obviously favouring one limb?
Crooked posture at rest or in movement
Do they appear to be running like a crab?
Do they always sit and slump to one side or repetitively circle one direction only, when trying to get comfortable to sleep?
Does one limb seem to lose grip or slide out the side when on slippery surfaces?
Difficulty with normal daily activities
Is your dog showing reluctance or struggling to jump up or down from furniture, or negotiating steps?
Are they slowing down and/or avoiding obstacles during agility or jumping?
Changes in temperament
Has your dog started being less tolerant of touch, seeking less social contact or refusing to play with people or other animals like usual?
Growling or teeth baring are late signs a dog is uncomfortable either physically or psychologically.
Recent trauma or surgery
Has he your dog had any falls or slips, or been barreled by another dog in play?
Is your dog progressing as expected with rehabilitation after surgery or showing signs she that they need some help recovering from surgery?
Aging or degenerative processes
Has he your dog been diagnosed with osteoarthritis in any joints of the limbs or spine, either primary or subsequent to an injury?
Are they simply slowing down as she they get older and finding it tougher to get going after rest?
Less obvious signs of pain or altered nervous system function
Has your dog been excessively licking or chewing at a limb or body part?
Are they showing signs of weakness in the back or front end?
Have they been diagnosed by the vet and being managed for neurological conditions such as Wobblers syndrome or Disc Disease?
Some of these presentations are ones which Osteopathy can bring a full resolution to the problem, such as when there is simple restriction after a slip, fall or jarring. Some require ongoing maintenance treatment to help the dog as the process of healing occurs at the rate the body can heal, for example after a successful cruciate repair, or helping a dog who has had an amputation adjust to life without a leg at each corner. Finally some can simply be assisted in maintaining the best function of the surrounding areas of the body, so that the problematic area causes the least impact upon the dogs daily life.
How Canine Ostepathic treatment helped Roly the Jack Russell
Occasionally these cases surprise you and make an almost miraculous turn around, like one wonderful little Jack Russell Terrier “Roly” who presented with full hind limb paralysis. Roly had 3 treatments over the space of a month, and along with veterinary management involving medication to manage pain and bandaging to protect his limbs, and some simple home exercises I prescribed for his owners to carry out, he was up and walking, albeit with reduced coordination. I next saw him almost a year later when visiting his owner to work on one of her horses and could hardly believe when I saw him leaping around the place as though there had never been a problem. He is a perfect example of how sometimes, simply giving their systems the space to heal by removing any restrictive roadblocks can reap huge rewards.
I am very excited to have the opportunity to work with the K9 SWiM team, and have access to the vast skills and knowledge base of the rest of the team, not to mention the ability for my clients to access the hugely beneficial hydrotherapy options.
I greatly look forward to helping your dogs achieve their best physical health in 2018, Initial consultation with you and your dog is generally up to one hour and then subsequent consultations are up to forty five minutes. If you have any queries please don’t hesitate to contact me on 0452 472 959
How tight hip flexors (ilio psoas) affect the horse and rider.
Call Sam Sherrington on 0452 472 959 if you’d like any more information on horse and rider Osteopathy.
It’s been nearly 18 months since we covered this topic (on my facebook page. Since these posts never made it to this website I’m going to review the hip flexors again, since they’re such an integral part to getting your riding position working for you and your horse, rather than against you.
Do you find you often feel crooked on your horse? Is your instructor always shouting at you to stop tipping forwards or poking your backside out? Does your horse often land on the incorrect lead or not land straight over a fence? Is one stirrup being stretched or always feel shorter? Do you often feel like you’re always tipping forwards and can’t get your leg down and around the horse to give effective aids?
(Diagram source uncertain – if anyone knows where it came from do please let me know so credit can be given where it’s due!)
One big question I’m sure you’re all wondering – Why is it that so many people have tight hip flexors and an anterior pelvic tilt?
Surely if it’s not a biomechanically sound way to operate, it wouldn’t be the ‘go to’ posture so many people find themselves in, would it?
Lets think about what things we all might do on a day to day basis that promote short, tight hip flexors.
Get up from your bed and sit down to eat breakfast.
Get straight in the car and sit for whatever period of time it takes to get to work.
Spend a decent part of your day, you guessed it, sitting. Often with your legs crossed. If you’re lucky you have a job where you get to move around a lot, but even then, because our eyes are on the front of our head and our arms reach forwards there is a strong chance you do most things in your day reaching or slightly leaning forwards.
At the end of the day, you get back in your car, head to the yard.
Jump on board your favourite four legged beast having spent not a moment thinking about warming up or stretching out your own body.
Fight with your body and if you’re lucky, have someone on the ground shout at you to Sit up! Sit up! Stop tipping forwards! Drop your right knee! Stop leaning to the right, for goodness sake!
Head home and perhaps spend a bit of time on the sofa in something approaching the foetal position, mulling over why on earth you just can’t get it together on the horse, before heading off to bed to properly assume the foetal position.
All in all, it’s a solid day of flexed hips.
Now, when you stand yourself up in between these periods of sitting and bending, your hip flexors start to complain as they’ve become quite accustomed to being shortened. So rather than happily lengthen out, they stay relatively short and instead pull your pelvis forward into a nice anterior tilt with an exaggerated lumbar lordosis. This in turn promotes short, tight lower back muscles and weak abdominal core muscles which makes your body even more likely to switch on those hip flexors to help stabilise the pelvis and lower back during unstable activities – like riding your horse 😉
So, what did you do today that would have shortened up the ol’ hip flexors?? I clipped the dog, then could barely stand upright again!
Stay tuned for Part 2, where we will look at the anatomy involved in a bit more detail and begin to consider what it is doing to you and your horse in daily work.
Call Sam Sherrington on 0452 472 959 for more information on Human and Animal Osteopathy.
It is established that more than 47% of the sports horse population in normal work may be lame, without having been identified as such by their regular owner or trainer. A new study by the industrious and ever driven Sue Dyson and team has made huge headway by testing the validity of a list of easily observed behavioural features that may indicate lameness in the ridden horse. The ethogram allows owners and riders to be more attuned to the signs that their horse may be in pain and thus could help to reduce the incidence of undiagnosed lameness in performance horses. The study compared the frequency and reliability of a group of 114 behaviours and reduced the list down to 24 reliable signs that occur significantly more frequently in lame horses than non-lame horses under saddle in trot and canter, when working large, on 20m and on 10m circles.
Many of the behaviours discovered to be significantly more common or exclusively seen in the lame group of horses are commonly viewed as purely behavioural and thus often addressed by stronger tack/equipment or punitive training methods. This study therefore provides some very compulsive evidence for always giving the horse the benefit of the doubt when a new or unusual behaviour crops up during work.
In my practice I’ve long seen many of these features as signs of pain in one part of the body or another, so it is fantastic to have some solid evidence to affirm the link and to help owners become more adept at recognising that these behaviours are in fact a cause for action. As the study concluded –
If ≥ 8 of the 24 identified behaviours linked to pain are observed within a fixed period of 3-5 minutes, it may be advisable to seek out a specialist for assessment of pain (lameness) in the horse.
So, keep this list of prime signs in mind if, while working with your horses, they begin to show undesirable behavioural changes. Young or green horses may be expected to show some of these signs as they are physically and mentally establishing their work, however if the behaviour continues then it is also well worth considering as a possible sign of pain.
Mouth repeatedly opening and closing
Tongue exposed or tongue repeatedly moving in and out of the mouth
Working on 3 tracks in a straight line.
Increased frequency or changes in frequency of steps within a gait, especially if when going from large to small diameter circles.
Incorrect canter (Changing behind/in front)
Unwillingness to move forwards and resistances.
Spontanously breaking from one gait to another
Stumbling and toe dragging
The full list of 24 signs is below for those really keen to keep on top of this aspect of horse management.
First port of call for all overt lameness cases is your vet, and once veterinary sources of pain are eliminated Sam Sherrington – Equine Osteopath if in the Hills and Hawkesbury regions of NSW, Australia or another Osteopath or Chiropractor (or Veterinarian trained in biomechanical treatment of horses) who has university level training to assess and treat musculoskeletal causes of lameness and pain.
Call Sam Sherrington on 0452 472 959 for further information on Human and Animal Osteopathy.
Nothing is more frustrating than a horse who suddenly begins to knock poles when jumping. A dangly front leg (or legs) can be the source of huge frustration particularly when all the schooling in the world just doesn’t seem to be working to get your horse to pick up in front. Lots of tight grids, well placed poles on an upright, leaving off the boots, using heavier poles etc. can all give a horse a little reminder that front legs are worth lifting, but what about when none of these have any long term effect and your beloved gee gee just keeps reverting to dangly, pole knocking form?
This is a problem I’d often see in both young and older horses, and often it will trace back to an actual fatigue issue. Due to restriction in the neck/shoulder, thoracics and ribcage the horse is having to work at least twice as hard to lift the shoulder and forelimb when jumping. Those muscles can become hugely fatigued and sore and try as he might, your horse begins to leave a leg or two dangling. Other signs this could be the source of your pole knocking woes include a sudden crankiness about being groomed around the shoulder or under the girth or when being girthed up. Poor drainage from the limb might also be evident with an increase in windgalls particularly after standing in for the night, or increased heat in the lower limb after work. You may find the horse begins to dip away from the saddle even though the saddler just confirmed that it does in fact fit the horse just fine. Your farrier may complain that your horse has become suddenly a little more recalcitrant about standing on one leg for shoeing. If you attempt to stretch your horses leg out in front after girthing (which incidentally isn’t the best way to ensure no pinching and can be risky for the horse – more on that later) you may find your horse leaning back and trying to pull the leg away from you.
So, a few boxes ticked there? What can we do about this?
Firstly it would be good to consider if your horse is showing any signs of lameness which warrant a visit from the vet. Then ask if he is due his biannual Osteopathic (or similar) MOT. Working horses do best with a regular once over, even if all feels to be moving ok in work, often niggles from slips in the field, jolts landing from a fence or simply working hard for us can be found and trouble averted before it becomes real trouble.
Secondly, have a good, but gentle, poke and prod around the muscles around the shoulder girdle and upper forelimb (7, 11-19 in the image above) . Can you find any soreness or ropey patches through these muscles? Pick up your horses leg and bring the heel towards the elbow, then try to gently move the whole shoulder girdle and foreleg in all directions in a big circle. That is, in front, out to the side, behind, and under the body, then up towards the wither and down towards the ground. If your horse reacts to these movements or you find there are restrictions in any direction again it would be worth giving your friendly Osteo a call.
If you find tightness but no strong reaction from your horse (beware, so many of our beloved beastie are hugely stoic and pretend all is well even when they’re struggling), you can try for a week or so to use that circular range of motion as a warm up exercise to help mobilise the shoulder and see if there is an improvement in the lift over fences. If no change, again it would be worth getting an osteopathic MOT to determine if there are deeper restrictions preventing the muscles from releasing.
Finally, don’t forget to consider your own position. Are you leaning significantly to one side over fences and creating extra work for your horse? That’s something for both your instructor and also possibly your Osteopath to help with.
As always, it’s worth considering if there are any signs of needing a vet. Problems in the lower limb or feet may also be worth ruling out. And, as for the best way to make sure there’s no girth pinch – a simple hand run down between the elbow and the girth will do the trick, without any risk of overstretching cold muscles.
Happy jumping, and please don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like that MOT for your horse (or yourself)
Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction or Pelvic Girdle Pain is a common reason women visit an Osteopath during pregnancy and sometimes after pregnancy. Beginning from as early as the first trimester, however more commonly from around 20 weeks onwards, SPD creates a distinctive pain in the pubis at the front of the pelvis often with pain also felt through the back of the pelvis and radiation into the hips, thighs, lower back and abdomen. Women typically find this pain to be at its worst when they are standing, especially on one leg such as when getting dressed, or when separating the knees such as when turning in bed, getting into and out of the car, walking with long strides, swimming breaststroke or having sex.
The hormone relaxin is often blamed almost exclusively for SPD, however research is quite inconclusive with 3 out of 4 high quality studies included in a 2012 systematic review finding no association between relaxin levels and pregnancy related pelvic pain. This leaves us with the question of – if relaxin is potentially less of a factor that typically thought, what really is going on?
Pregnancy places a huge strain on the body in many ways, with great changes in the physiology and functioning of the whole body. The musculoskeletal system is not immune to these changes. Small functional restrictions that the body as a whole was able to cope with quite readily prior to pregnancy become potential sites of pain.
Osteopathically, the most significant function of the body is movement. I like to explain it as the human body has a certain amount of movement it considers ideal at each joint within the body. some move a lot, some move very little, but every joint has the capacity for some movement. Within the axial skeleton, the lower back (lumbar) and neck (cervical) regions move relatively a lot, the upper back (thoracic) significantly less, and the joints between the spine and the pelvis and within the pelvic ring, very little at all. Ideally, the day we are born we have perfect movement at each of these joints, though sadly that’s not often the case, and that’s a topic for another day. Over the course of our lives we bump, slouch, crash, twist and jolt our bodies many thousands of times, many without ever really considering it an ‘incident’. We go through childhood bouncing around like kids do, we spend our school years carrying increasingly heavy loads on our backs and spending increasing amounts of time sitting in front of a desk. We then join the workforce where we typically do one activity repetitively, whether that’s more sitting at a desk, manual labour or driving or … well you get the picture. All of these factors ever so steadily use up our body’s ability to compensate for the little restrictions that build up in our body. That slip when you fell on your backside in the big freeze might have created a restriction through your sacroiliac joint between your spine and your pelvis, or perhaps a restriction in the lumbar spine. The fatigue you feel in your thoracic spine and neck when sitting in your desk chair each day at work coupled with a minor prang in the car several years back might be representative of restrictions through the thoracic spine and the musculature associated with the entire shoulder girdle, which of course, given the human body’s love of sharing it’s woes around, begins to affect the muscles headed up into the neck. These are just two examples of the simple things we do to ourselves day in and day out. Usually we get ourselves out for a good walk, maybe do some stretches or have a hot shower and a good sleep and we feel pretty close to functional again to battle on the next day. Ultimately the body compensates for joints with restricted movement by increasing the movement in other joints and regions. Everything seems pretty hunky dory.
Then pregnancy happens and we can’t quite fathom why our body suddenly begins screaming at us.
One of the most common factors in pelvic girdle pain in general, but in pregnancy in particular, in my experience is that the sacroiliac joints and the pubic symphysis are joints which aren’t designed to move very much at all. They are also joints which don’t have any muscles directly supporting them, so once ligaments begin to be hit with the effects of relaxin, they are prime candidates for strain when related areas of the body aren’t moving the way they ideally should be. This makes treatment of pelvic girdle pain often quite simple. Get the restrictions elsewhere moving and the body is no longer forced to seek extra movement through these little joints which aren’t designed to be moving a whole lot. Often, simply balancing the pelvis and getting the thoracic spine moving is sufficient to get a woman out of pain. Naturally the body, being the wondrous complex marvel that it is, doesn’t always make things so simple, however this simple case serves to demonstrate how Osteopathy seeks to help return the body to a state where the pains related to the strains and stresses of pregnancy can be significantly reduced or removed.
If you have any questions with regards how I can help you to enjoy your pregnancy as much as possible don’t hesitate to contact me.
When bringing a horse into training for any discipline, it is important to consider an individual plan aiming to get the best improvement in muscle strength, tone and flexibility while minimising the risk of injury. Anyone who has dealt with a range of horses within various disciplines, or even within one discipline alone will know that some horses seem so much more prone to injuries during training than others. Many times this can be due to the horses past work, for example ex-racers often come into their second career with variable degrees of ligament or joint damage due to the nature of their previous training. Starting with a fresh horse with a known history can be a major headstart, however every horse has his own physique and as such care in formulating a program accordingly can minimise the chance of injury.
Human professional athletes and their coaches have long considered their physique in optimising their training programs to get the best outcome from their training regimes and similar principles may be of great value in ensuring our horses perform their best. Three types of body type are widely recognised, the Ectomorph, the Mesomorph and the Endomorph. These three represent three distinct physiques, however in reality most individuals show elements of 2 or more.
The Ectomorph – The typical lanky thoroughbred type, light of bone, lightly or poorly muscled with weak connective tissue, they are long necked and small shouldered. They have small joints and relatively long legs in relation to their body size. They often carry low body fat, and are difficult to get good condition on, even with higher than average feed consumption. They are often also quite sensitive to temperature extremes and changes. Having poor natural muscle tone and weak connective tissue, this type is most prone to overtraining, and require the most care to build their strength gradually to allow them to perform without joint or ligament damage.
The Mesomorph – The athletic, well proportioned type with mature muscle, strong connective tissue and large bones. They tend to carry themselves well naturally, gain fitness and body condition readily. They are typically quite stoic and due to their inherent strength are more physically forgiving of errors in training than the ectomorphic type.
The Endomorph – Low natural muscle tone however, unlike the ectomorph, with work will gain muscle bulk readily. They have soft bodies and gain weight readily. They typically have smaller bone structure than the mesomorph, and due to their propensity to be ‘pudgy’ often resemble the typical “Thelwell” pony, with a big round body and little legs. This type are more resilient in training than the ectomorph, however require an awareness during training of the imbalance between body weight and the relatively small bone structure carrying this large body along.
Regardless of body type, basic principles of training are common to all. Following these guidelines you can help keep your horse fit and healthy while aiming for your ultimate performance goals.
Avoid excessive fatigue. Soft tissue injuries are far more common when muscles are fatigued.
Increased training should be matched with increased rest. It is during rest that significant increases in muscle strength and power are developed.
Resistance training increases the ability of muscle to endure hard training. Combinations of poles or cavalettis and working in varied and deeper surfaces build a horses core muscles required for support during faster and more jarring activities.
Introduce new work gradually. The more time the horse is given to build strength, the less likely he is to injure himself when being pushed during training or competition.
Train on as many different surfaces as possible. Varied ground stimulates the proprioceptors in the joints and improves the horses ability to maintain good stability when moving quickly over uneven ground.
Always incorporate a good warm up and cool down period to ensure maximum elasticity and power in the ligaments and muscles respectively during work, and preventing stiffness after work.
Professional athletes make use of manual therapists to ensure their bodies are working at their best and small injuries are dealt with before they become large problems. Your horse benefits in the same way from an Osteopathic consultation allowing his joints, muscles and tendons to work most efficiently and thus minimising the strain and risk of injury during your training and competition.
Do yourself the favour of considering your own balance and its effect on your horse. The daily impact of your imbalances can greatly affect your horses balance and work.
Following these guidelines will help both you and your horse work your best and pretty soon, you’ll start seeing the results in training and competition.
Following on from our contemplations on the principles of Osteopathy, it seems natural to begin to consider some of the specific problems and syndromes that are commonly encountered in the performance horse. While focusing largely on the performance horse, the mechanical stresses in sporting dogs are often similar and principles of evaluation and treatment remain the same and may therefore be extrapolated in many cases.
I frequently have the privilege of helping horses who are showing signs of dysfunction in the TMJ – the Temporomandibular Joint. This is a fancy name for one of the most important joints in the performance horses body; the Jaw.
Symptoms that might suggest your horse is suffering from TMJ dysfunction might include localised pain or tenderness, leaning on the bit, resistance to one direction, poll flexion or one-sidedness, dropping a lot of feed or passing whole grains in his manure, ear or poll shyness, head-shaking, unexplained mild to moderate lameness especially “bridle lameness”, or generally being out of character.
Common management factors such as reduced grazing time and increased grain consumption, feeding from a raised feed trough, routine dental work, the use of various kinds of bits and nosebands can initiate or exacerbate dysfunction in this region. Injuries to the poll, pulling back or hitting the head in the stable or horse box are also common events leading to TMJ dysfunction. Conversely, dysfunction in associated regions can result in compensatory TMJ dysfunction as the horse attempts to work around discomfort in these areas.
The TMJ is an amazing joint, functionally it is involved in the simple act of chewing, the horses sense of balance, as well as being structurally linked to the rest of the body, from the upper neck to potentially as far as the pelvis. Because the function of the lower jaw requires so much movement for day to day survival, structurally it has come to be a complex joint allowing side to side movement, lengthways towards and away from the front teeth (retraction and protraction) as well as opening and closing. The structure of the joint itself is enhanced by strong connective tissue, musculature and nerve supply which supports the joint and enables the movement required. This tissue directly links the jaw to the base of the skull, the upper and lower neck and the structures through the upper respiratory and digestive system. Through the base of the skull run important cranial nerves which are responsible for many higher level functions in the head and the respiratory and digestive systems. The musculature from the upper neck functionally links the TMJ to the shoulder through both gross motor muscles and small deep postural muscles. The connective tissue of the TMJ also has slips to the connective tissue surrounding the spinal cord which ultimately ends at the level of the sacrum in the pelvis, functionally linking the jaw and the pelvis. Due to all these anatomical and functional links, the balance between the two sides of the jaw is integral to the correct functioning of all these systems. As such, when there is a loss of free range of movement and balance in the TMJ, the horse can suffer significant amounts of discomfort and ultimately loss of performance.
Osteopathically, the jaw is a satisfying structure to work with. Bringing balance to the TMJ typically triggers a cascade of improvements in many systems. Certainly, as with any other structure in the body, it is not a cure-all, however its effect locally as well as in functionally associated regions is powerful. Following release of the jaw horses will often yawn or shake their head, their expression often changes to a more relaxed and ‘happy’ demeanor. It is not infrequent to see a total relaxation of the whole horse due to the intimate links between the connective tissue of the jaw and the base of the skull and its cranial nerves. Upon walking the horse out, an increased freedom and length of gait is generally noted, due to the relationship of the jaw to the shoulder as well as the pelvic region through the spinal cord connective tissues.
If your horse is showing any of these signs it is well worth having him assessed for possible TMJ and surrounding dysfunction. As discussed, treatment can result in some huge improvements in performance and attitude. If you have experienced the days you wake up sore or with a headache and yet still have to go out and do your days work, you know how grumpy this can make you. Give your horse the benefit of being free of this kind of discomfort and you might find yourself and your horse coming ahead in leaps and bounds.