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The term contraindication is used to describe specific situations in which you should not massage a horse and in which you should seek the advice of your veterinarian.

  • Do not massage when the horse’s temperature is over 102° Fahrenheit (F) or 39° Celsius (C). A horse’s normal temperature is 100°F, 38°C. A mild fever is present at 102°F, 39°C. A moderate fever is present at 104.5°F, 40°C. A high fever is present at 106°F, 41°C. An increase in temperature occurs during serious illnesses; feverish conditions call for complete rest. Massage will only render the situation worse by increasing blood circulation, which is already rampant. Cover your horse with a blanket to keep him warm and to avoid a chill. Check with your vet.
  • When there is an open wound (broken skin) or healing wound (bleeding) anywhere on the body, avoid that particular area, although you may massage the rest of the body to help with excess swelling and to release compensatory tension.
  • When there is acute trauma (a torn muscle or an area with internal bleeding, such as an acute hematoma), use ice for the first few hours. The Ice-cup massage technique is very efficient for these situations. Massage can be resumed in the chronic stage (past 72 hours).
  • When severe forms of functional nervous disease (tetanus) are present, do not massage the horse. The nerve stimulation would drive him insane. Even the laying on of hands would be risky, although it could help.
  • Acute nerve problems or nerve irritation (neuralgia) in a particular area (following a wound or a bad stretch) is a contraindication to massage. The laying on of hands might soothe. Use cold hydrotherapy to numb the nerve endings before and after the laying on of hands.
  • During colitis, diarrhea, pregnancy, or hernias, use just a light stroking on the abdomen and only if the horse does not mind.
  • Acute rheumatism and arthritis are too painful to permit massage. Massage would worsen the inflammation. Instead, use cold hydrotherapy locally. Once the acute stage is relieved, resume your treatment. Chronic stages of rheumatism and arthritis require different treatment. Light massage over the areas affected would relax the compensatory tension from the muscles supporting those structures. Do not work deeply around the joints.
  • Calcification around joints or within soft tissues should not be massaged; it would only increase the inflammation in these areas. Check with your veterinarian for possible surgical removal.
  • An inflammatory condition such as phlebitis would be worsened by direct massage. Use cold hydrotherapy and check with your veterinarian.
  • If cancerous tumors and cysts are present, don’t massage. Massage could spread them. Avoid the affected areas, but you may massage the rest of the body. Check with your vet.

Massage is absolutely contraindicated in the following conditions, since it would contribute to their spread:

  • Skin problems of fungal origin, such as ringworm
  • Infectious conditions of fistulous origin, such as poll-evil or fistulous withers
  • Infectious diseases, such as strangles, tetanus, and pneumonia
  • Acute stages of viral diseases, such as equine influenza or herpes

Be careful when dealing with what appears to be an abnormal situation. If in doubt, contact a veterinarian. Otherwise, use massage cautiously. When massage is contraindicated, the laying on of hands will often bring soothing energy to an irritated area, relieving the pain. Hydrotherapy modalities can also contribute to relieve the inflammation and pain considerably, assisting recovery and definitively comforting your animal. Please visit our extensive video library to select your visual guidance in all these modalities.

Knowing how to safely approach an animal for massage is part of the secret to success. Your patience, perseverance, good humor, kindness, knowledge, and skills will reduce the psychological and physical barriers between the horse and you, leading to better communication with the animal.

Understanding how to properly approach your horse for massage will secure best results. Recognizing the different contra-indications will allow you to better care for your horse. This overall knowledge will give you confidence in your daily application of your personalized home care program. Consider reading the article on the Do’s and Don’ts of home care practice to maximize your efficiency.

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

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).