“My horse has been examined, scanned, x-rayed and there’s nothing wrong. Why is he still off?”
Sometimes there is no apparent cause for lameness and poor performance. These unexplainable problems are much more common than those obvious injuries and are usually very frustrating to deal with. Quite often, the cause for poor performance or lameness is a trigger point. Find out in this article what a trigger point is and what we can do to treat it effectively.
What Is A Trigger Point?
Also called a myofascial trigger point (MTP), trigger points are basically taut bands of skeletal muscle. Essentially, these spots in the muscle have contracted but are unable to relax. If you’ve ever had a “knot” in your back (or another area of the body), then you’ve personally experienced a trigger point. They hurt!
When touched or palpated, they are severely painful. Sometimes the pain is experienced directly at the trigger point location, however, referred pain is also common. If that’s the case, pain deriving from a trigger point is felt somewhere else in the body, which makes a diagnosis very challenging.
The following are the most common symptoms of trigger points in horses:
- Resistance Issues
- Having Trouble Bending
- Refusing To Jump
- Becoming Short on Extensions
- Lacking Impulsion
- Lacking Hind Leg Engagement
What Causes Trigger Points?
The following are the most common causes for trigger points:
- Muscle Overuse
- Nutritional Deficiencies
- Repetitive Microtrauma
- Repetitive Physical Strain In One Position
Many horses will continue to perform but they won’t be able to use their full potential. They will overuse certain muscles and put extra weight on tendons and joints which makes them prone to more severe injuries such as tendonitis and arthritis.
What Is Dry Needling?
Although dry needling has been used to heal humans for decades, the technique has only recently been established to treat equine patients. This therapy involves inserting acupuncture needles into trigger points after a thorough examination of the patient. After the treatment, the muscles relax and move pain-free without restrictions.
In most cases, you can see an immediate response to the treatment.
How Does Dry Needling Help Treat Trigger Points?
When the dry needles are inserted into the trigger point it causes an immediate release. Sometimes a small twitch which is called a localized twitch response can be seen. The twitch is important for two reasons:
- Healthy muscle fibres won’t twitch. The twitch indicates that the correct area is being treated.
- The twitch allows the shortened muscle fibres to release and helps to end the contraction.
This allows the muscle to relax and it increases blood flow to the area. Additionally, endorphins are released which help to reduce pain and relax the horse.
All of this promotes healing in the area of the trigger point and helps to relieve pain. Over time, it also helps to prevent additional injuries!
Are There Side Effects Associated With Equine Dry Needling?
Having used this technique for several years now we haven’t seen any major side effects apart from mild muscle soreness. It is recommended to do light work only for 2-3 days after treatment.
Additionally, since the skin is technically being broken through penetration, every horse being treated must be dry & clean and up to date with its tetanus shot.
What To Expect During And After The Treatment
Prior to the insertion of the needles, we will need to examine your horse. This means both a physical exam standing and also watching the horse in motion. Once the trigger points have been located, the needles will be inserted.
Most of the patients relax after the insertion of the needles, many dozing off thanks to immediate muscle tone modification and thus effective pain relief.
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