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The Benefits of Massage - An Owner's Easy Guide

Updated: Sep 21, 2022


What is massage?

Massage is a scientifically-proven therapeutic technique performed on a variety of animals as well as humans to promote relaxation and reduce muscle tension.


Massage is a manual technique that comprises of kneading or rubbing muscles in horses to improve muscle health and reduce pain.


Massage can be used alongside other treatments such as stretching and electrotherapies to give your horse a rounded session and will not impede exercise or rehabilitation plans.


Massage has physiological, physical and psychological effects for every horse and so can be used to improve health and was as mental well being for your horse. Massage also provides hands on bonding time with your horse and can help to build your relationship.


Who can provide massage to your horse?

Veterinarians, Veterinary Physiotherapists or Equine Sports Massage Therapists.

These professionals may be part of associations such as the NAVP, ACPAT, AHPR which all aim to provide you with fully qualified and insured therapists to help you and your horse.





How do you massage your horses?

  • It is important to apply enough pressure that the massage technique is effective but to be gentle enough not to cause discomfort or damage to your horse.

  • Keep a straight back and use a wide stance with your legs to take pressure away from your arms to avoid injury.

  • You can use a step or block to stand on to help you massage the horses neck or back muscles.

  • Make sure to wear a hard hat and appropriate footwear and stand on a flat surface when massaging to avoid injury.

Effleurage Technique

Effleurage is a slow stroking massage technique. Effleurage can be used before exercise to warm up the horses muscles or after competition or training to cool them down again.


Effleurage is completed by stroking the flat palm of your hand along the muscle of the horse following the muscle fibre direction. This usually means following the direction of the hair. Place one hand on the horse and do a long, slow stroke, then place your other hand at the beginning and follow the first hand and create a loop of this movement. There should always be one hand on the horse. The strokes can start gently and then you can add more pressure around 2 minutes into the massage. Then finish off the last two minutes of massage with lighter strokes again.


You are looking for a hard, tense muscle to become soft and supple under your hand. This can take around 5 minutes per area. You can do this every other day if needed.




Benefits and Contraindications of Massage

All types of horses can benefit from massage. Horses that show signs of discomfort such as stiffness, unwillingness to go forward, bucking and many other symptoms may have an underlying issue that a professional can assess with veterinary permission and massage may be prescribed to alleviate these symptoms.


However, horses with no issues or symptoms of pain can also benefit from massage. Massage sessions after exercise can prevent delayed onset muscle soreness, relax muscle spasms and repair muscle damage which inevitably occurs after exercise. Therefore, promoting return to normal function after exercise or injury.


Massage has several benefits according to the Equine Sports Massage Association:

· Improves blood circulation

· Improves horses awareness of where their feet are

· Prevents and alleviates areas of skin tightness

· Pain relief

All of these benefits work together to improve overall performance of your horse, whilst also reducing the likelihood of injury.

Massage should not be performed on horses with any sort of immediate issue that needs to be seen by a veterinarian. Open wounds or on areas of irritation from a skin condition should also not be massaged and any condition where increased circulation could worsen the horses condition such as tumours.




Clinical Evidence Supporting the Benefits of Massage

Massage produces mechanical pressure forces onto the body creating changes to the muscles and tissues. Gasibat and Wurida conducted an experiment in 2017 that found these changes include enhancement of blood circulation by increasing the arteriolar pressure, and accumulating muscle tissue temperature from rubbing. Mechanical pressure also increases muscle mass and compliance, resulting in increased joint motion. The increase in blood flow will promote healing of tissues and get your horse back out competing quicker.


Hill and Crook did a study in 2010 that found that two 30 minute massage sessions a week apart made a significant difference in horses hindlimb muscle stretch meaning an increase in comfort and stride length therefore if a horse is competing cross country he can cover more ground. If the horse is doing dressage you will get higher scores for more fluid movement.


Sullivan, Hill and Haussler conducted a study in 2010 that found that when pressure was applied to the horses back before and after a massage treatment the pain response from the horse was reduced. This means massage can provide pain relief to horses recovering from injury and training.


Thrikell and Hyland asked 423 horse owners if they had ever used an alternative veterinary medicine and 71% of owners said they had their horse massaged and massage is the most widely accepted method of treatment by both horse owners and veterinarians. This shows that more people are supporting the effectiveness and benefits of massage.


Conclusion

Overall, massage is an effective tool that can be used by horse owners in conjunction with veterinary professionals. The benefits of massage are widespread and are most important for reducing pain, promote healing, improve function and prevent injury. Massage is inclusive of all types of horses and is important for the relaxation and mental wellbeing of both horses and owners.


If you have any questions please contact Eve Herne at Even Stride Veterinary Physiotherapy: enquiries@evenstridevetphysio.com




References

  • Equine Sports Massage Association (2021) ‘What is equine Sports Massage Therapy?’ Available at: https://equinemassageassociation.co.uk/what-is-equine-sports-massage/ (Accessed 02/01/2021)

  • Gasibat, Q. and Suwehli, W. (2017) 'Determining the Benefits of Massage Mechanisms: A Review of Literature', Journal of Rehabilitation Sciences, 2, pp. 58-67. doi: 10.11648/j.rs.20170203.12.

  • Hill, C. and Crook, T. (2010) 'The relationship between massage to the equine caudal hindlimb muscles and hindlimb protraction', Equine Veterinary Journal, 42(s38), pp. 683-687. doi: 10.1111/j.2042-3306.2010.00279.x.

  • Sullivan, K.A., Hill, A.E. and Haussler, K.K. (2008) 'The effects of chiropractic, massage and phenylbutazone on spinal mechanical nociceptive thresholds in horses without clinical signs', Equine Veterinary Journal, 40(1), pp. 14-20. doi: 10.2746/042516407X240456.

  • Thirkell, J. and Hyland, R. (2017) 'A Survey Examining Attitudes Towards Equine Complementary Therapies for the Treatment of Musculoskeletal Injuries', Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 59, pp. 82-87. doi: 10.1016/j.jevs.2017.10.004.

  • Whittle, S. (2019) Contra-Indications for Equine Massage. Available at: https://www.pemagmitts.com/index.php/information/contra-indications-for-equine-massage (Accessed: Jan 2, 2022).

  • All photos used are from Unsplashed and credit is given to the owners of the photos


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