What does the term chiropractic refer to?

Chiro is a Greek term relating to hands and the Latin term practicus means an action or business. Therefore, chiropractic is the practice of using one’s hands to diagnose and treat disease.

The most common conditions that chiropractors focus on is the conservative management of pain, muscle spasms or tightness, and stiffness associated with neck, back or pelvic disorders. Chiropractic techniques can also be applied to the diagnosis and treatment of any joint pain or stiffness in the limbs of horses (or arms and legs in humans).

How can chiropractic work be beneficial to horses?

The primary goal of the manual therapy examination, including chiropractic work, is to identify whether a musculoskeletal problem exists and to localize the injury to either soft tissue, articular, or neurologic structures. Orthopedic and neurologic evaluations are important adjunctive assessments used to identify common causes of limb lameness, spinal injuries, and neurologic disorders that are more appropriately and effectively treated with traditional medical or surgical approaches. Manual therapy evaluation and treatment is not a substitute for a thorough lameness examination and diagnostic imaging. However, horses with conditions that are not readily diagnosed using traditional modalities or with concurrent lameness and spinal dysfunction may benefit from a thorough manual therapy evaluation. Some horses present with vague or overlapping signs of neurologic disease and musculoskeletal pain, which may be differentiated with a detailed axial skeleton evaluation. The spinal examination also helps to identify and differentiate signs of acute and chronic spinal dysfunction and to localize stiffness, pain, or muscle hypertonicity to a few vertebral segments or an entire vertebral region.

What research supports the benefits use of chiropractic care in horses?

The focus of equine chiropractic research has been on assessing the clinical effects of spinal manipulation on pain relief, improving flexibility, reducing muscle hypertonicity, and restoring spinal motion symmetry.

Obvious criticism has been directed at the physical ability to even induce movement in the horse’s back. Pilot work has demonstrated that manually-applied forces associated with chiropractic techniques are able to produce substantial segmental spinal motion. Two randomized, controlled clinical trials using pressure algometry to assess mechanical nociceptive thresholds in the thoracolumbar region of horses have demonstrated that both manual and instrument- assisted spinal manipulation can reduce back pain. Additional studies have assessed the effects of equine chiropractic techniques on increasing passive spinal mobility (i.e., flexibility) and reducing longissimus muscle tone. The effect of manipulation on asymmetrical spinal movement patterns in horses with documented back pain suggests that chiropractic treatment elicits changes in thoracolumbar and pelvic kinematics.

What training is required for a practitioner to be qualified to perform chiropractic work?

Unfortunately, there is a wide range in the expertise and qualifications of equine chiropractors: some individuals are self-taught, most have taken post-graduate certification courses ranging in duration from 10 to 200 hours, and others have pursued formal university-based, professional degrees in human chiropractic and then have applied those techniques to horses and other animals. General recommendations for selecting someone qualified to work on your horse are

  • Are they a good horse person and can handle themselves in a safe and respectful manner,
  • Do they clearly address you and your horse’s needs and are not trying to do a quick fix or make a quick buck, and
  • Are they a licensed professional (e.g., a veterinarian or a human chiropractor) that has pursued additional post-graduate training in equine chiropractic evaluation and treatment techniques. A good rule of thumb is to ask if a specific chiropractic evaluation and treatment looks like something you would be willing to have done to yourself. If you would not like the observed treatment done to you, then you might want to reconsider having the treatment done to your horse.