Updated: Apr 16
Can we cure back pain and can Veterinary Physiotherapy help? So the short answer is yes! But if you’d like to know more about the causes and specific treatments used, keep reading and you’ll discover the 2 leading causes of back pain in dogs and horses and the best treatment.
Let’s start by having a look at the 2 major causes of back pain in dogs and horses:
Pulling on the lead
Limb stiffness or lameness
Did those suprise you?
Let’s take a more in-depth look at these causes of back pain.
So our leading causes of back pain in dogs are pulling on the lead and limb stiffness or lameness. Let’s start by having a look at lead pulling.
Now, this can be intentional lead pulling such as in bikejoring, canicross or weight pulling etc. or unintentional pulling such as a dog that has not yet learnt to walk to heel. Whether it is intentional or unintentional pulling our dog’s backs are put under strain. If this happens again and again over time the strain in our dog’s backs can build up to back pain. This is primarily due to your dogs back muscles doing more work than they should be. In an ideal situation, our dogs core would support their back muscle and reduce this work. But when there’s an imbalance in how our dogs are using their core muscles this, unfortunately, doesn’t happen. We’ll talk a little more about this imbalance later and how to fix it.
Another cause of back pain in our dogs is limb stiffness or lameness. Now on the surface, they might seem like different issues but the truth is they are almost always linked. So if your dog is lame on the right fore for example they have to compensate for not using that limb as much and these compensations often occur in the back. But equally, if your dog has back pain they are more likely to go lame so all the more reason to treat and prevent back pain!
Let’s have a look at the leading causes of back pain in our horse's- rider asymmetry and poor self-carriage.
First, let’s have a look at rider asymmetry. When we ride our horse's our weight is distributed over their backs. Now our saddles are designed to optimise this spread of weight however some are better than others for example a treeless saddle offers less support to our horse's than a treed saddle. Even the best fitting and most supportive saddle still don’t fully protect your horse's back from your asymmetry. If you have a tendency to sit for the right this compresses the muscles on the right-hand side of your horse's back more than the left and this leads to your horse struggling to bend to the left as the right-hand side cannot stretch. Over time this can lead to back pain. We’ll talk a little later about how we can start to fix these issues.
Another cause of back pain in our horses is poor self-carriage. Now that might sound a bit jargony but basically, it just means that your horse isn’t engaging their core and supporting themselves but instead are leaning on us, training aids or their back muscles to hold them together. Over time this leads to overwork of the back which leads to back pain.
Now that you understand the leading causes of back pain, you can keep an eye on your pets. If you feel your pets may fall into one of these categories ensure you see your vet and vet physio regularly to monitor your pets back.
If your pet is unfortunate to suffer from back pain here are the treatments your vet physio can offer you.
Laser therapy- Laser therapy uses light energy to alter how your pet’s body heals tissues and how they perceive pain. Laser therapy is the best treatment for trigger points which are focal pain points within the muscles of your pets back associated with muscle tension. Laser therapy disperses these areas removing the tension and the associated pain.
PEMF- Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy uses electric magnets to create a small magnetic field. This leads to altered blood flow aiding healing and also alleviates pain and tension. PEMF is often used at the same time as laser therapy to reduce tension and pain within your pes back muscles.
TENS- Tens machines deliver small electrical currents to stimulate the sensory nerves of the back. When these sensory nerves are stimulated they send messages to the brain to release endogenous opioids. These opioids produce pain relief just like opioid medications such as morphine.
Massage- Massage therapy is a manual therapy that works on increasing blood flow to the tissues to increase their healing rate and deliver more of these pain-relieving hormones. The mechanical nature of massage loosens the tension in your pets back muscles and the pain associated with it. Take a look at the type of massage your vet physio might leave you with after their treatment here. (remember you must see your vet and vet physio first)
Core strengthening exercises- Increasing your pets core strength is the best way to prevent back pain by giving your pets back the support it needs to function in the jobs we give them. But what are the best exercises? First, you need to treat the pain then you can activate your pain prevention core plan. Once you're pets back pain is treated you can learn more about core exercises here.
If you need more help with this you can check out our Complete Core Programs here.
Need some help visualising this? Check out our YouTube video below.