Review explores musculoskeletal therapy use in horses, dogs

Big variation found in the quality of evidence that supports the use of joint mobilization or manipulation in treating pain and stiffness in horses.
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Further studies are needed to assess the effectiveness of musculoskeletal mobilization and manipulation techniques used in veterinary medicine, the authors of a just-published review have concluded.

Kevin Haussler and his fellow researchers, writing in the journal Animals, said neck and back pain are common in animals. Conservative care is the most common form of management of pain, stiffness and muscle spasms.

“Physical therapists, osteopaths and chiropractors use mobilization and manipulation techniques to evaluate and treat muscle and joint problems in both humans and animals, but there seems to be little scientific evidence available to support their use in veterinary medicine,” the review team noted.

In their study, they examined published research to identify the clinical indications, amount of treatment, outcome parameters, and efficacy of mobilization and manipulation techniques in horses and dogs.

Fourteen studies were included in their review, 13 of which involved equines, while one was a canine study.

They found that study quality varied widely and included a wide array of outcome parameters, with varying levels of efficacy and duration of therapeutic effects.

“There was a large variability in the quality of evidence that supports the use of joint mobilization or manipulation in treating pain, stiffness and muscle hypertonicity in horses,” the authors reported.

“Therefore, it was difficult to draw firm conclusions despite all studies reporting positive effects.

Optimal technique indications and the appropriate amount of treatment need to be determined to improve the standardization of these treatment options, they said. The review team said future studies need to explore these avenues.

Discussing their findings, the review team said while there are many review articles addressing the use of manual therapies in veterinary medicine, there is a clear lack of available primary research.

“This systematic review reveals that there is a growing body of evidence that supports the use of spinal mobilization and manipulation in horses; however, there remains a critical deficit of published clinical trials in dogs.”

They said it is surprising that there were so few studies that have evaluated the effects of joint mobilization or manipulation in the lower limbs of dogs, cats and horses, given the high prevalence of problems that occur in that region.

“Regrettably, there are also few validated outcome parameters for both dogs and horses for assessing spinal examination findings such as palpable sensitivity, stiffness, and muscle hypertonicity in the clinical setting.”

They said that while functional questionnaires for assessing musculoskeletal or neurologic pain and dysfunction have been validated for use in dogs and horses, they have not yet been applied to evaluate how well mobilization or manipulation techniques work.

The study comprised Haussler, with Colorado State University; Amie Hesbach, with EmpowerPhysio in The Hague, The Netherlands; Laura Romano, with VCA Canada Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital in British Columbia; Lesley Goff, with the University of Queensland in Australia; and Anna Bergh, with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

Haussler, K.K.; Hesbach, A.L.; Romano, L.; Goff, L.; Bergh, A. A Systematic Review of Musculoskeletal Mobilization and Manipulation Techniques Used in Veterinary Medicine. Animals 2021, 11, 2787.

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

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One thought on “Review explores musculoskeletal therapy use in horses, dogs

  • September 27, 2021 at 6:26 am

    Thanks for this candid assessment of the state of the art regarding neck and body manipulation etc to treat ailments in horses etc. I think for many species including horses and burros and people this has great value but caution is required and more careful research.


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