Kissing goodbye to horses’ back problem

Moving to our premises at Whorral Bank has made a huge difference to our diagnostic work, particularly on the equine side.

The opportunity to be able to hospitalise horses has meant that we can offer a wider variety of services, with more in-depth investigation and treatment, no more so than with lameness.

We have a monthly clinic, run in conjunction with Dr Phil Dyson, an orthopaedic specialist from Clevedale. The clinics are often over-subscribed and frequently we have had to hold more than one a month.

Recently, we have had several cases where horses either become difficult to ride or their performance has deteriorated for no obvious reason. All have been given a thorough lameness evaluation, and although some had an underlying, usually hind-limb, lameness, many had back pain. It will certainly affect performance and horses often become resentful to jumping or even moving forward when under saddle.

With these cases, they have all had varying degrees of a condition termed kissing spine. The horse’s back, like all vertebraes, consists of a series of bony blocks, which form the spine. From these arise large plates of bone called the dorsal spinous processes to which a thick strong ligament attaches. These give the back strength.

With kissing spine, the dorsal spinous processers move so the space between them narrows and in some cases the processes touch and rub against each other. Although this can be normal and tolerated well in some horses, in others it causes severe pain.

Diagnosis can be made by radiography. Some cases can be obvious, others are not so clear and a definitive diagnosis is obtained by injecting steroid between the affected spaces. If the horse’s back becomes more comfortable then this is a definite diagnosis.

Milder cases can be managed with physiotherapy and repeated steroid injections, others need surgery. It is performed under sedation and offending plates of bone are removed. Horses are extremely tolerant of the surgery and every one of the cases we have had have shown an immediate response.

Post-operatively they have three months’ box rest, allowing time for the ligament to reattach, and have physiotherapy. They have a gradual return to work, and all of the ones we have seen have made good recoveries, with marked improvements in performance.

By SALLY BOOTH, Director