A sore back or poor performance because of back pain is a very common complaint, however, can be difficult to diagnose.

What are the symptoms?:

Animals with back pain often express this in their posture or in their refusal to work. Horses will often attempt to compensate for the pain by changing their posture and way of going can result in other problems such as joint changes.

The following symptoms in a horse may indicate back pain:

  • Reduced performance
  • Abnormal posture
  • Snapping and pinning back ears when being saddled
  • Insubordination wehn being ridden
  • Throwing head back up or hollowing back when ridden
  • Swishing tail and pinning back ears when ridden
  • Disobedience when jumping
  • Difficulties with collected or lateral gaits
  • Changes in behaviour
  • Frightened or painful facial expression
  • Sensitivity to touch

In the earlier stages of back problems (before horse feels the pain), the restriction of motion in the spine can affect muscle coordination adn mobility of the horse, thereby causing decreased performance.

The following symptoms may be seen in cases of spinal restrictions:

  • Unleveled gait rhythm
  • Irregularity of gait which cannot be assigned to a particular leg or gait
  • Stiffness when the horse leaves the stable
  • Stiffness when bending and in its general posture
  • Muscular atrophy
  • Brushing or interfering
  • Difficulty engaging hindquarters
  • Difficulty working ‘long and low’
  • Shortened stride in one or more legs
  • Overall decreased range of motion in gait
  • Difficulty flexing the poll
  • Subtle lameness
  • Saddle being thrown off centre
  • Reduction of swing within the back and tail

At our practice we offer both veterinary and chiropractic examination and treatments. Examination of a horse exhibiting back pain will include the following steps:

1. Examination at rest

We will evaluate the horse’s conformation, evidence of any muscle wastage, symmetry of the hindquarters and how squarely the horse stands.

2. Examination at move

The horses move will be evaluated on the straight line (walk and trot) and on the lunge. In some cases of subtle problems we may ask you to ride the horse, as well. Many horses with back pain will show a restricted hindlimb action with poor hock flexion and a tendency to drag the toes. The horse may have either a close (plating) or wide (straddling) gait behind. Flexion test may be carried out to rule out common hind limbs lameness due to bone spavin.

3. Static palpation

By gently palpating the muscle along the back, areas of pain or muscle spasm may be found.

4. Mobile palpation

As we have further training in animal chiropractic techniques, we are perform mobile palpation of the spine identifying any restrictions that may be present. Treatment is then carried out at the same time via quick adjustment, restoring the normal movement of the affected joint.

5. Radiography

In some cases we may decide radiography of the spine may be necessary. Our portable machine is efficient enough to perform radiography of the Dorsal Spinous Processes (i.e. to identify Kissing spine lesions). For images of the facets joints, a mounted high power x-ray machines are necessary, therefore we would have to refer you to one of the referral practices we collaborate with.

6. Local analgesia

In cases of kissing spine lesions identified by radiography, we would need to confirm the clinical significance of these lesions by injecting a local anaesthetic around the lesion (as not all radiographic changes are causing pain). Local analgesia is also useful in diagnosis sacroiliac joint disorders.

7. Ultrasound

Ultrasound is most useful to diagnose lesions of the soft tissues of the back such as desmitis (strain) of the supraspinous ligament. Although the ultrasound cannot penetrate through bone, it gives an accurate picture of the surface of bone and so can also be dry useful to diagnose facet joint arthritis and abnormal, strained attachments of ligaments onto bone (enthesiopathy).

8. Bone scan (scintigraphy)

In some cases even the most thorough clinical examination will not be enough to reach the diagnosis, and we may wish to refer you for a bone scan. During this procedure, a radio-labelled isotope is injected intravenously into your horse. The isotope is drawn to a bone with active remodelling process. This radioactivity is then detected by a gamma camera and the active sites of bone metabolism show up as ‘hot spots’. Further diagnostics (radiography, ultrasonography, local analgesia) will be used to follow up on these hot spots to reach the diagnosis.


Majority of horses will respond to conservative therapies (i.e. chiropractic or osteopathy for spinal joint restrictions; physiotherapy or laser treatment for muscle originating back pain).

Chiropractic treatment is delivered by short thrust along the plane of the restricted joint (‘adjustment’). The adjustment is a very spe

cific, high speed, low force maneuver that moves the affected joint beyond the normal physiological articular range of movement, without exceeding the boundaries of anatomical integrity. This restores the normal movement of the joint and resets the neurological pathways.

Some cases may also benefit from added pain relief (either systemic in form of NSAIDs, or locally injected steroids). The treatment options are very much depending on particular horse and diagnosis so you would be advised of appropriate treatment at the end of the examination.

If you require any furhter information about back pain investigation & treatment, or would like to book an appointment, please phone us on 01304 364648.