The use of high-intensity laser therapy (HILT) for its anti-inflammatory effects is justifiable in horses with tendon and ligament injuries, researchers in Poland report.
HILT has been introduced as a non-invasive therapy for musculoskeletal diseases in horses, but little is known about its impact in treating tendon and ligament injuries.
Paulina Zielińska and her colleague set out to learn more, using 26 Warmblood performance horses with tendon and ligament injuries. The animals, aged between 5 and 24, were all patients with the Department of Surgery, part of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the Wroclaw University of Environmental and Life Sciences.
The horses were randomly assigned to either a group that received a series of 15 HILT treatments, or a group that received no laser therapy. All horses underwent the same 40-day rehabilitation program.
The rehabilitation program included two 20-minute walks a day on hard ground, followed by cold water therapy on the tendons and ligaments of the affected limb for 20 minutes after each walk.
Clinical and ultrasound assessments were carried out before and after, examining pain, swelling and lameness in the affected limb.
The study team found that the laser treatment promoted painkilling and anti-swelling effects, and also delivered an observable reduction in lameness. The imaging showed a greater reduction in lesion size in the laser-treated group when compared to the untreated group.
The pain assessment was based on each horse’s reaction to palpation of the affected tendon, and swelling was assessed by measuring the circumference of the injured limb and comparing the result to the opposite healthy limb.
Lameness was assessed by observation of each horse lunged in both directions on a soft surface.
“HILT appears justifiable for its anti-inflammatory effects and can be used as a physiotherapeutic technique for supportive treatment of tendon and ligament injuries in horses,” the researchers wrote in the open-access journal Animals.
“The introduction of laser therapy to veterinary medicine, particularly to analgesic therapy in horses, gives hope of improving the quality of life of patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain.”
The researchers said their study confirmed their hypothesis that the use of HILT in a treatment group leads to a significant improvement in the symptoms of pain, limb swelling and lameness associated with tendon and ligament injuries.
Discussing their findings, they noted that there is no universally accepted HILT protocol for tendon and ligament injuries concerning the number of sessions, duration, frequency and energy dose.
None of the horses included in the study experienced skin burns or increases in swelling, pain or lameness after HILT application. “Therefore, HILT was classified as a safe procedure, which is well tolerated by horses and does not require pharmacological sedation.”
They acknowledged that the study involved a small control group and a wide age range in both groups.
It would be ideal, they said, to have a larger number of horses with tendon and ligament injuries to observe the healing process without HILT, subject only to the rehabilitation program.
“However, it was important to perform clinical research on horses with possible similar clinical and ultrasound appearance, free of other treatments and additional medication.
“This study assessed the short-term effect of HILT in tendon and ligament injury treatment. There is a need for long-term follow-up, such as assessing time to return to controlled exercise, time to return to full performance level and re-injury rates.”
The study team comprised Zielińska, Jakub Nicpoń and Zdzisław Kiełbowicz and Maria Soroko, all with the Wroclaw University of Environmental and Life Sciences; Krzysztof Dudek, with the Wroclaw University of Technology; and Daniel Zaborski, with the West Pomeranian University of Science and Technology.
Zielińska, P.; Nicpoń, J.; Kiełbowicz, Z.; Soroko, M.; Dudek, K.; Zaborski, D. Effects of High Intensity Laser Therapy in the Treatment of Tendon and Ligament Injuries in Performance Horses. Animals 2020, 10, 1327.