Veterinary Care for Spine Injury in Horses

Every day, horses sustain injuries to various parts of their spines. While most recover with rest, pain medication, and exercise, sometimes horses do not make full recoveries.

An injured spine in a horse can create problems throughout its body, from resistance to being saddled to jumping issues. Even minor issues can have lasting repercussions for all parties involved.


Horses suffering from back injuries often display signs of poor performance. This may be caused by pain, muscle spasm or soft-tissue damage in their back region; unfortunately this type of injury can often go undetected by veterinarians and trainers. Unfortunately back and spinal cord injuries are also difficult to detect; sometimes overlooked even by professional veterinarians altogether. Serious ataxia may result from such injuries as well as complete recumbence preventing these horses from ever being ridden again; thus making these serious conditions unridable altogether.

Fractures to the withers or lumbar region may occur if a horse rears up and falls onto this part of their body, often seen among young racehorses that summersault over their withers after running at high speeds. Signs include ataxic behavior, inability to stand, incapacitation of defecation/micturation functions, an unattractive appearance and flaccid tail.

Compression of the spinal cord over the neck region causes acute spinal cord compression. This leads to abnormal proprioception and balancing reactions in their legs and feet – commonly diagnosed as wobbler syndrome; most horses improve with time and return to competing; although sometimes cervical stenotic myelopathy develops which has more serious prognosis implications.


Veterinarian care for horses suffering from spinal disorders is paramount to helping them regain their full physical condition and ability to function. Though not life threatening, such issues can have significant ramifications on quality of life and performance of championship sports horses.

Everyday, horses suffer injuries to their spines that result from falls, poor fitting tack or overexertion. One of the most frequent areas affected is known as cauda equina near where sacrum meets ilium; damage here often causes pain and discomfort as pressure is exerted upon nerves responsible for bladder control, rectum function and anus function; this type of injury often manifests itself by either dribbling urine or difficulty passing manure known as neuropathic lameness (NCE).

Diagnosing NCE can be challenging and requires an in-depth physical exam, radiographs and ultrasound imaging. Radiographs reveal skeletal components of the spine to detect any anomalies or fractures that may exist, while ultrasound evaluates muscles, ligaments tendons soft tissues in addition to the sacroiliac joint itself. Furthermore, MRI provides more extensive evaluations of neck structures which can assist in diagnosis.


Horses suffering from spinal pain can be challenging to diagnose early on. Their behaviors and performances often change over time, making it hard to connect symptoms directly to back discomfort. Furthermore, pain may strike slowly over time leading to decreased interest in regular activities as well as increasing symptoms.

Most horses with spine injuries are managed according to standard veterinary practice, including first aid and stabilization at the site of injury, rest in stall rest facilities and pain management. Unfortunately, however, severe symptoms can sometimes result in significant loss of function or permanent disability for horses.

Horse spine injuries may manifest themselves with symptoms ranging from lameness on one side to complete paralysis, depending on their cause. A variety of treatment options exist depending on which part of the spinal cord has been injured.

These treatments include using drugs to reduce inflammation and swelling (edema) of the spinal cord, acupuncture and chiropractic therapy – the latter which involves examining all parts of an animal before giving a short, sharp thrust with hands or instruments at precise angles on their spine or limbs to specific joints – this process may prove dangerous to horses when conducted incorrectly and with incorrect angles and thrusts used.

Thoraco-lumbar fractures are almost exclusive to equestrian activities and typically affect levels T5-T8. Three patients had mid thoracic spinal fractures as a result of professional competition equine competition, providing evidence for this conclusion.


The back of an equine is an amazing and complex network of bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons, connected by nerve pathways to every part of its body. Any discomfort or pain anywhere can have ripple-effects through to its spine and affect movement and performance issues for the horse.

Significant spinal injuries in riders may be rare, yet can have an immense negative effect on quality of life for injured parties. Therefore, it’s essential that injury patterns be studied carefully as well as improvements to riding techniques made in order to lower this risk.

Horses suffering from back problems may be treated without surgery by identifying its source and working closely with a veterinary team to provide supportive care for your horse.

Some horses can experience kissing spines, in which bony projections on top of their vertebrae rub against each other causing inflammation and discomfort. Kissing spines can be prevented by making sure your horse remains fit through regular exercise and saddle fit; additionally, your veterinarian can recommend equine chiropractors who specialize in back health such as stretching massage or shockwave therapy to promote healing as well as teaching you daily stretches to strengthen his back.

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