Alternative horse care: Five steps to a chiropractic adjustment

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Dr Natalia Novoa at work.
Dr Natalia Novoa at work. © Jump Media

Treating equine injuries with both alternative therapies and conventional medicine is a perfect approach, according to Florida veterinarian Dr Natalia Novoa, a specialist in chiropractic treatments.

Novoa, who has worked at the Palm Beach Equine Clinic since 2011, said chiropractic adjustment was useful for horses with injuries or soreness issues, “but it’s also something that is very important for maintenance”.

© Jump Media

“You want to prevent problems instead of treat them. If a misalignment happens, that creates incorrect friction, which then leads to pain in the joints, muscle soreness, and stress on the tendons and ligaments, possibly leading to a soft tissue injury,” Novoa says.

“Another advantage of chiropractic adjustments is that it is useful for FEI competition horses because of the restriction on medications at that level. It’s a way we can effectively treat a problem and stay within the regulations.”

While each veterinarian who incorporates chiropractic adjustments in their treatment options do so with their own style, Novoa has developed her own five-step system that she finds most effective.

1.    Horse History

Patient history is a pillar of medicine, which provides pivotal information.

“I always want to speak with riders, trainers, and grooms to get an understanding of what they feel and see,” Novoa says. “They spend the most time with the horse and know it the best. Sometimes, clients ask me to evaluate the horse first and tell them what I see and feel, which is when most people ask me if I have a crystal ball.”

While Novoa doesn’t travel with a crystal ball, her skill at reading a horse leads her to the second step.

2.    Scan Acupuncture Points – “Acuscan”

A scan of the acupuncture points on a horse, which Novoa calls an “acuscan,” is always her next move. She checks the main acupuncture points from head to tail by using her tool of choice – the round end of a needle cap. This allows her to put firm pressure on a very specific point and then evaluate the horse’s reaction to that pressure.

“A reaction can indicate, for example, left front lameness or a sore neck, etc.,” Novoa says. “It’s not voodoo; you are piecing together your findings in the exams with the symptoms that the horse is presenting.”

3. Evaluate Horse Movement

After scanning the horse, Novoa likes to always see the horse move to dig deeper into any reactions she noticed while checking acupuncture points. She starts at the walk and then observes at the trot.

“This is where I incorporate conventional medicine and supplement my evaluation with flexion tests or hoof testers depending on what I see,” Novoa says. “I want to produce the most detailed picture before moving on to the adjustment.”

4. Make the Adjustments

“I adjust a horse the same way every time,” Novoa says. “This specific order ensures that I don’t miss anything and the horse receives a thorough adjustment of its entire body with special attention paid to any problem areas that I uncovered earlier in the process.”

» Check and adjust these 10 points:

Point 1: TMJ (temporomandibular joint)

© Jump Media

Point 2: Poll and neck

Dr Natalia Novoa at work.
© Jump Media

Point 3: Front limbs, including lower limb joints and carpus (knee)

Point 4: Shoulder and scapula on both sides to compare one with the other

© Jump Media

Point 4: Shoulder and scapula on both sides to compare one with the other

Point 5: Withers

Point 6: Pelvis and back

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Point 7: Hind limbs, including hocks and stifles

Point 8: Sternum and T1/T2 vertebrae

Point 9: Tongue release

Point 10: Myofascial release if muscles spasm or a tense back and neck are indicated


5. Secondary Acupuncture Point Scan

“The final piece of the puzzle is to scan the acupuncture points again to compare what we had before versus what we have after the adjustment,” Novoa says. “If there are still reactions, I may do acupuncture or electro-acupuncture and use a class-four regenerative laser.”

After her secondary scan, Novoa formulates a short and long-term treatment plan. In her experience, adjustments last for four to six weeks before a follow-up adjustment is indicated. If certain chronic injuries are flaring up, a horse may need an earlier follow-up.

“It’s all about listening to the horse,” Novoa says. “They will always tell you what they need; you just have to listen!”

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