Equestrian Research – Good Exercises for Back Pain Rehabilitation and Prevention

In people with back pain the ‘multifidi’ muscles, which are important stabilisers of the spine, very often become dysfunctional and various exercises can be used to reactivate them and thus increase back strength after injury.  Horses with back pain appear to experience a similar pattern to people and severe back pathology, such as degenerative changes, have been associated with multifidi dysfunction at the same spinal level (Stubbs et al., 2010 – abstract link below).

Illustration from Nohorse back musclesvember 2012 issue of Canadian Horse Journal.

The long muscles of the horse’s back (the longissimus and iliocostalis muscles) affect the degree of bending, rounding, or hollowing of the whole length of the back, whereas the much shorter multifidus muscles are able to isolate their effect to a very small area of the spine, and thus are more effective at stabilizing the inter-vertebral joints of a horse’s spine.

Some exercises that can help horses have now been put to the test and, for those that are interested, you may find the following book useful.  It is based on a research study in 2011 (link below), involving a group of school horses that did not have signs of back pain.  The results showed that when dynamic mobilization exercises (carrot stretches) were performed regularly (5 days per week for a period of 3 months), there were significant increases in multifidi cross-sectional area i.e., the back muscles became stronger.  These exercises are thus recommended both for therapy in horses with back pain and as a preventative measure to reduce the risk of back injury in equine athletes.

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