Effect of Winter on Your Animals Joints

By Emma Boyd Qualified Veterinary Osteopath.  BSc (Hons) OSt PG Dip Vet Ost GOsC Registered

As winter surges upon us it is essential to remember the importance of maintaining freedom and suppleness within the muscles and joints of not only ourselves, but also our animals:- horses, donkeys, dogs, cats etc.
As we all have experienced at some time, the cold and damp weather can bring about aches and pains even in the most fit and healthy, and can render some of our older animals stiff and relatively immobile. Older dogs and cats with arthritic joints often need more frequent osteopathic visits throughout the winter to maintain freedom of movement due to the weather changes.
Not only the weather changes, but the longer hours spent stabled during the winter can also lead to stiffening of the joints and muscles in our horses. It is important, therefore, to remember, even if you may be exercising your horse less due to the dark nights, that their muscles and joints are still in need of regular osteopathic attention.
Osteopathy is based on an established system of diagnosis and treatment that lays its emphasis on the structural integrity of the body. It recognises, therefore, that people and animals can suffer pain and stiffness from abnormalities in the function of the body as well as from disease.
As osteopaths we use our hands to investigate and diagnose the underlying causes of pain, whether it be soft tissue, joint or visceral. We then design a treatment plan that is catered to each patient as an individual using a variety of techniques. These include massage, muscle and connective tissue stretching, joint articulation and adjustments, and cranial.
Due to the diversity of treatment techniques available for osteopaths to use, we can successfully help to treat, not only back pain as generally thought, but also a wide range of conditions at any age, including;
• Arthritis
• Stiff Joints
• Muscle tension
• Neck stiffness and therefore    lack of flexion
• Resistance to collection

Back injuries can also often happen in horses that have a pre disposition to be stiff in other joints, especially leg joints, e.g. hock or stifle.
This is because, the horse’s body as in human athletes, needs to be as flexible as possible to be able to undertake the level of demands that we put on them in all activities from riding school lessons to hunter trials.
Therefore, when another joint, for example the hock joint, becomes stiff, the forces passed through the horse’s legs ends up having to be absorbed by the horse’s back, rather than being absorbed throughout all the joints in the legs, including the hock, as usually occurs in a free moving horse.
To understand how much having stiffness in your legs would affect your back, as with horses, you could try walking for a few minutes with a fixed straight knee, and feel how uncomfortable it makes your back feel.
However, just because your horse has a tendency to stiff joints should not mean that they would always have back injuries. With certain exercises and regular stretching of the muscles around that joint, which I can show you how to do safely, the stiffness in your horse’s joints can be minimised, and your horse’s flexibility increased. This is especially important through the winter months, when joint stiffness’s, as stated above, often becomes markedly worse.
This treatment will not only reduce the stiffness in that joint but also reduce the effects of the joint stiffness on your horse’s back allowing you and your horse to happily continue with your riding throughout winter without worry.
It can be advisable, therefore, if you are concerned that your horse is stiff, to consult me to examine and treat your horse and to advise you on exercises that you can complete to prevent your horse’s stiffness from worsening and to prevent back injuries from occurring.
Case example:
Tallulah is a 16.2 13 year old bay mare that competes regularly during the summer in dressage and sponsored rides. Despite being generally healthy, Tallulah suffers from a mild stiffness in her right hock as a result of an old injury, that barely affects her during the summer.
However, during the winter, due to the long hours she remains stabled and the cold, damp weather, her owner was finding that the hock stiffness was affecting her to the point that when ridden Tallulah was taking a very long time to warm up enough to be schooled, and that due to this increased hock stiffness Tallulah’s owner felt unable to compete her through the winter.
Her owner then decided to call me and we have since devised a winter maintenance programme, with exercises that her owner can do in between visits. Her owner has reported a vast improvement in her general suppleness and hock stiffness throughout the winter, to the point that she can now compete Tallulah throughout the year.

For further information, or to discuss your requirements for veterinary osteopathic treatment, please contact me on  07703 323 532.

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