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The term Cold-Back refers to an inflammatory condition of the muscles of the back. Most of us have seen horses with cold backs ranging from mild to severely tender, with the horse flitching down as soon as you touch his back. The main muscles affected in this condition are the longissimus dorsi, the iliocostalis and possibly the serratus dorsalis, both the cranialis and the caudalis portion. In severe cases, the thoracolumbar fascia might also be affected.

If the horse has been ridden while he has this condition, the soreness will cause him to develop automatic compensation over his entire back, possibly up his neck and some of the larger muscle group of both his fore and hind legs. Some stress point might develop:

  • the longissimus dorsi (SP 20)
  • the iliocostalis dorsi (SP 21)
  • the spinalis dorsi (SP 5).

Cold back is a common problem usually associated with ill-fitting saddles, occasionally with incorrect shoeing, and sometimes with incorrectly balanced riders.

Helping Your horse with Massage

A simple and efficient way to help your horse with this painful condition is to apply a light massage treatment before and after riding. Place more emphasis on the massage given after riding, because warm back muscles can take a more vigorous massage that will soothe any stiffness and prevent the formation of trigger points.

Start your session with the short version of the relaxation routine for a few minutes to calm and prepare your horse. It will initiate a parasympathetic nervous response of relaxation and repair from the central nervous system.

Then, to warm up your horse’s back, begin your massage treatment with the SEW approach along the entire back, from the withers to the rump, on both sides of the spine. This will stimulate the general circulation and loosen the muscles fibers in preparation for deeper work. For visual guidance on the SEW and WES massage approaches you can download the video # E004.

Follow with effleurages 3 to 5 times, progressively increasing your pressure from 3 or 5 pounds to 10 or 12 pounds. Then proceed with some wringing massage movements across the entire back, from the withers to the rump and back to the withers, to further increase circulation and loosen the back muscles. Your pressure should be around 10 pounds. Follow with some effleurages massage movements. If your animal is not too sore, nor inflamed, you might consider using some light hacking moves (8 to 10 pounds of pressure) along the entire back to reach deeper in the muscle structure. For visual guidance on the various massage movements you can download the video # E002.

Complete with some effleurages. Then proceed to check each of the associated stress points (SP 5, 20, 21, 27) and treat them when necessary, using the stress point massage technique. For visual guidance on the Stress point massage technique you can download the video # E011.

If the animal appears very tender, also check SP 6, 7, 8, and 25, which are sometimes affected when severe symptoms of tension are present in the back. For visual guidance on the location of the potential 40 common Stress point found on each side of the horse, you can download the video # E013.

Apply the trigger point technique to treat any trigger point that appears inflamed. Use lots of effleurages to thoroughly drain the entire back. For visual guidance on the Trigger point massage technique you can download the video # E010.

Once you have checked and relieved the associated stress and trigger points, gently apply finger frictions along the course of the longissimus dorsi and the iliocostalis dorsi muscles to further loosen and relax the muscle fibers. Intersperse with lots of effleurages and finish your treatment with the WES approach over the entire back.

To enhance the effect of the massage therapy, consider the “Ice-cup massage technique”, a hydrotherapy modality before and after your massage session to enhance benefits. The coolness produced by the ice-cup massage application will sooth the nerve endings irritated in the back muscles and contribute to flushing the circulation of both blood and lymph within the back muscle structures. For visual guidance on the Ice-cup massage technique you can download the video # E008.

When done, your horse would further benefit from some stretching exercises over both his back and his limbs. Regular stretching, before and especially after exercises, will maintain your horses muscles and joint flexible as well as give you direct feedback on how your horse is doing in regard to each body part. For visual guidance on safe stretching exercises for your horse, you can download the video # E007.

A daily application of massage, stretching and cool hydrotherapy will assist your horse a great deal in his recovery. Once healed, a weekly application of the same care program will be an effective preventive measure.

I hope you enjoyed this article and found the information useful.  My goal is help you provide quality home care for the benefit of your animal.

Please visit our FREE library. Our many articles address important aspects of animal wellness and fitness. Take the time to scroll through our free library to find out how you can actively contribute to your horse’s wellness.

Animal Awareness also offers a large video library with over a 100 mini-videos that will show you how to easily perform the various massage and stretching techniques talked about in this article, and more. These videos offer you the correct start and visual guidance. With this knowledge, you will be able to develop a good home care program for the benefit of your animal friend.  He will love you for it.

Enjoy your new Awareness!

Jean-Pierre Hourdebaigt, LMT

The use of various “Hydrotherapy Modalities” (EV008) combined with “Stretching Exercises” (EV007) and the “Special treatment for Back” (EV026) will maximize the benefits of your home-care program onto your horse’s back problem.

The “Trigger Point Massage Technique” (EV010) and the “Stress Point Massage Technique” (EV011) are strongly recommended to assist the muscular compensation often seen with back problems.

If you are just starting with your home-care program, consider our “Introduction to Animal Massage” package,a 20% discount value on the first 7 DVDs, to secure a sound foundation in your equine massage skills. Then take advantage of our other packages to increase your knowledge of home-care protocols for the benefit of your horse(s).