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  • Edward Busuttil DVM

Veterinary chiropractic - Who can do it? How can it help?

The ultimate goal of a chiropractor is to help prevent injury, however, we also have a large role during recovery and rehabilitation following diagnosis of a musculoskeletal injury.

It is not a substitute to traditional medicine, however it looks to supplement the work done by you, your vet, physio, saddler, and farrier. Postgraduate training in chiropractic is only open to veterinarians or human chiropractors. As such, only qualified practitioners can call themselves chiropractors.

Chiropractic care is centred around a concept known as a ‘Vertebral Subluxation Complex’ (VSC). A VSC consists of two joining structures (namely 2 vertebrae, but it can also be two bones which form a joint in a limb), and everything in between, including, but not limited to, the joint capsule, joint fluid, nerves, and ligaments. When everyday life, conformation (is your horse toe in, have a dipped back etc.), or musculoskeletal issues result in inflammation, and tightness around a VSC, the VSC loses its normal range of motion, resulting in discomfort and a compensatory movement to reduce strain through that structure. A VSC is not a ‘bone out of place’, as this would require emergency veterinary diagnosis and care.

Chiropractors aim to re-establish the correct range of motion within a VSC, and to ensure that the function of that joint is working appropriately. This is done by applying a small but rapid thrust in a specific direction, on a specific point of the body. It is a manual adjustment, not requiring any medication. A loud noise may sometimes be heard (like when you crack your knuckles), and this is called cavitation. This happens when a joint is pushed past its normal range of motion.

As the VSC consists of not only the 2 adjacent bones, but also the nerves associated with it, manipulation also positively affects the neurological system. If you imagine the spinal cord running through the spine, a large spinal nerve emerges from a small hole between two vertebrae, on both the left and right side. If there is inflammation or decreased motion at a VSC, the nerve emerging from the hole gets compressed (squashed), and therefore cannot function appropriately. Adjustment to a VSC which is compressing a nerve will decrease inflammation around it and improve its function.

Although the adjustment can cause a short period of discomfort as areas in spasm are manipulated, horses generally relax during treatment, and this is exhibited with them yawning, or sleeping.

Chiropractic is rarely a one time fix, as the horse continues to go through daily stresses. It provides a window of opportunity within which, together with other professionals involved in the care of your horse, you can work on their strength, conditioning and configuration, putting them on the right trajectory for a successful career.

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