Researchers Examine Spinal Manipulation vs. Mobilization (AAEP 2010)

Equine back pain can often cause a horse to move with a stiff trunk, asymmetrical spinal motion, and lameness. Horse owners often turn to chiropractic care as a technique to improve their horses' performance and comfort. At the 2010 American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Convention, held Dec. 4-8 in Baltimore, Md., Kevin Haussler, DVM, DC, PhD, of Colorado State University's veterinary school discussed a study in which he and colleagues measured the effects of two different types of chiropractic techniques: spinal manipulation as compared to spinal mobilization.

Spinal mobilization describes using cyclic and rhythmic forces to induce selective displacement along the spine-- this is achieved by applying firm downward pressure and releases repetitively along the length of the spine. Spinal manipulation (SMT) is achieved with a high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust. According to Haussler, spinal manipulation has been shown to increase flexibility, improve performance, and decrease pain and muscle spasms in horses.

In the study, Haussler and his team treated 24 actively-ridden horses with SMT over five thoracolumbar sites (in the saddle region, in front of the pelvis) once weekly for three weeks. Haussler explained that 70% of flexion-extension of the trunk occurs at the lumbosacral junction--the joint between the lumbar vertebrae and the sacrum, just in front of the croup. Investigators measured peak vertical movement, applied force, and stiffness at these five intervertebral sites.

The results of the study demonstrated that manipulation and mobilization both increased spinal mobility. According to Haussler, SMT causes the spine to move beyond its normal limit in range of motion, while mobilization usually is only effective within the normal range of joint motion. While mobilization produced consistent delayed increases in spinal mobility or flexibility between treatment sessions, SMT achieved immediate therapeutic effects. Such SMT displacement effects lasted between treatment sessions, whereas mobilization effects did not.

Haussler explained that mobilization is a more conservative and less forceful technique, making it useful for treating acute pain without overstretching or injuring soft tissues. Manipulation is a more aggressive approach with notable benefits for chronic neck and back pain. He suggested that additional treatment sessions might be necessary to achieve longer-term effects than those seen after each of the three spinal manipulation treatments used in this study.

About the Author

Nancy S. Loving, DVM

Nancy S. Loving, DVM, owns Loving Equine Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and has a special interest in managing the care of sport horses. Her recent book, All Horse Systems Go, is a comprehensive veterinary care and conditioning resource in full color that covers all facets of horse care (available at or by calling 800/582-5604). She has also authored the books Go the Distance as a resource for endurance horse owners, Conformation and Performance, and First Aid for Horse and Rider in addition to many veterinary articles for both horse owner and professional audiences.

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