Laser therapy for horses
Horses can be treated with laser therapy, a treatment method that is being used increasingly by veterinarians, different types of equine practitioners, such as equine physical therapists and equine massage therapists, as well as private horse owners who wish to shorten the duration of an injury or illness in their horse.
As with humans, there are different indications for treatment with laser. Below you will find a select number of treatments.
Tendon and ligament injuries
Horses have extensor and flexor tendons, located on the front and back of the fore and hind limbs of the horse. Tendon injuries occur fairly often in horses, and they can occur, for instance, when the horse is injured or falls ill. A veterinarian often uses an ultrasound scanning to diagnose tendon injuries.
For horses, most tendon ailments occur in the flexor tendons:
- Superficial digital flexor tendon
- Deep digital flexor tendon
- Suspensory ligament
- Check ligaments
Re. item 1: If the superficial digital flexor tendon is swollen, the limb will have a bow on the back side. This is called a bowed tendon. Lameness may be present and can vary from slight to severe. In most cases, this injury is seen in the fore limb in galloping, jumping, and dressage horses while the injury most often occurs in the hind limb in trotter, driving, and work horses.
Re. item 2: If disease occurs in the deep digital flexor tendon, the limb will be diffusely swollen and lameness may also be present and can vary from slight to severe. Pictured here is an example of laser treatment of the deep digital flexor tendon in an Icelandic Horse.
Re. item 3: If disease occurs in the suspensory ligament, the limb will also be swollen and the horse may be lame to different degrees.
Re. item 4: If the check ligaments are injured, the degree of lameness can vary. It is not possible to describe this in a short and precise manner, however, in the acute state, the horse will generally show signs of lameness and pain. When you touch and push on an area where the tendon is swollen, the horse will show signs of pain.
All pain in the back region from, for instance, muscle tensions and pain from things like a poor saddle fit or changes in the bones, results primarily in stiffness and other symptoms in the horse’s back. Be aware that similar symptoms, such as muscle stiffness and pain, are also seen as secondary symptoms of lameness in one or more limbs, and in those cases attempts to treat the back problem will have no effect before the primary problem is resolved, which is why a thorough examination is recommended.
Lower back problems that result in a lowering of the horse’s ability to perform are very common. These issues can be found in the bones and/or the horse’s muscle structure.
With back pain, horses can often benefit from laser therapy because the laser stimulates the natural healing after, for instance, muscle injuries, and with tensions, the laser loosens up the muscle so the transfer of blood is stimulated and the muscles are able to discard waste product more easily.
In this picture, a horse is being treated on its lower back with a PowerLaser Basic 1500.
Laser therapy is especially suitable for treating wounds. Laser therapy accelerates the coagulation and consequently assists in quicker wound healing and also often reduces the scar tissue that follows. Generally, the sooner a wound is closed, the lower the risk of infection that would further complicate the injury.
Talking about laser therapy for the treatment of wounds in horses, professional Fox Trotter trainer Kenneth Nielsen says:
"Most horses develop a wound at some point, in their stable or during training/running. If you treat the wound with laser therapy, at a distance with a sweeping motion, any skepticism about the effects of the laser will disappear. It's obvious that the healing is significantly faster".
In fact, wounds were one of the earliest indications for laser therapy, which was discovered by coincidence during animal testing.
Thrush is an infection in the hoof of a horse, in the region of the frog. It occurs when the horse is standing in very moist conditions, in their stable or paddock. It can be avoided by regularly keeping the hoofs clean and dry.
If the horse still develops thrush, the condition can be stopped in the early stages with laser treatment. We have seen examples where thrush has subsided within just a couple of days. In this picture, a horse is being treated for thrush with a PowerLaser Basic 1500.
Choosing a laser
Which laser should you choose for treating horses? Many people think they need a device in the $20,000 range to help their horse via laser therapy, but that really is not necessary. You need a laser that is powerful enough to treat the muscle structure of your horse and one that can also be turned down for treating wounds and superficial tendons with inflammation. With a Class 3B laser, you are sure to get a laser that is meant for therapeutic treatment, with no risk of harming your horse. We recommend a PowerLaser Basic 1500 or PowerLaser PRO 1500 for the treatment of horses.