Controversial Post... Let's Talk... Kissing Spine
Controversial Post... Let's Talk... Kissing Spine
This is going to be one of those posts where some people will really understand where I'm coming from, and the rest will think I'm completely stupid... So you've been warned! Read on....
Kissing Spine is a condition that's been around a long time, but has become a more frequent diagnosis in the last few years. So, what is kissing spine? Kissing spine refers to when the tip tops of the spine (spinous process) don't have proper joint spacing so they hit (kiss) with certain movements causing pain and poor performance.
Causes of kissing spine.... In both humans and horses there can be a genetic component to the development of cartilage and degenerative issues in the spine. Poor conformation can also play a factor. It can also be a result of previous injury. I feel like a lot of times it gets diagnosed as one of these three causes when it is simply a result of bad posture.
Here's where I'm going to compare horses and people for a bit. So all have bones that make up up our skeleton or frame of our body, right? Well those bones don't hold themselves up... Our skeleton stays upright and together because of muscles, tendons, and ligaments. And the power source comes from our core. Without proper core function, you start to see the person looking like the diagram above... Slouching, belly pulling the rest of the spine forward... Right up to losing the curve in the neck, which lets the weight of the head pull on the spine. Low back/hip pain in people will almost always result in neck pain on the diagonal side.
Now let's look at the horse diagram with a lack of core strength... We see the same things. The belly is pulling on the spine which stretches muscle and ligaments... The horse's head will usually be carried higher to compensate for lack of strength to propel the body forward. The pelvis is often seen tipped froward (just like in people) when causes the horse to get "strung out" or unstable in the hind end. When your hind end gets weak, you run the risk of soft tissue tears because a horse can't properly rate and drive out of a turn... Many times resulting in a fall or back slip that causes an injury.
How do you treat kissing spine? The most common veterinary treatments are injections or surgery. On a more minor scale there's cold laser, PEMF, shockwave, and magnets. People also tend to have custom saddles made. Horses will run through a bit, refuse to turn, buck, and all sorts of bad behaviors because of pain.
Now this is where my opinion as a therapist differs from a lot of others. Even if you have surgery done, if you do not do the corrective therapy to recondition those muscles... That horse WILL get sore again at some point. I see it all the time. The core must be built up and function correctly for that horse to stay sound for the long term. Same thing with injections, people want them to be a magic fix and they aren't. They are a method of getting rid of inflammation in an area. Once you've broken that pain cycle, then that's the perfect time to implement some core training into your routine. This is how you get lasting results.
Workouts have changed so much over the years. People rely on gym equipment verses heavy labor, and horses are primarily ridden in arenas on manicured ground and less out on trails and rough terrain. I'm not saying that's wrong, but you have to realize all that flat ground work can lead to not forming the core horses had two decades ago. We have to figure out a way to change the terrain if you don't want to take your prized show horse out on rough trails (which I understand). So this is where I talk a lot about backing up, lunging on an incline, trotting poles, and stretching. You can find videos on this in Superior Therapy Discussion Central.
I feel like English riders are so much more aware of core balance in both themselves and their horses that western speed event riders. It's very important for both though. We are all about trying to prevent future injuries and a strong core will really help with that. I'm not again injecting. I'm not against surgery, but I wouldn't just start there either. Bottom line is that YOU have to be responsible enough to correct the muscle weakness and not just keep on running or buying new saddles or paying for treatments here and there... At some point you have to stop and correct the root of the issue which always comes back to core strength. Also, if you look at the riding diagram... Look what happens to the rider's pelvis on the horse with no core strength... The rider is unbalanced and is tipping her own pelvis forward which creates its own bad habits in any event. You have to have balance between horse and riders for the ideal performance. Your weak areas will also create areas of weakness in your horse, and also the other way around. This is why it's important to work on both horse and rider fitness.
I see this in so many human clients. They're overweight and they know it. Their doctor wants them to lose weight, but their back hurts so much they can stand to try to exercise. This is where injections and anti-inflammatory meds are great. They break that pain cycle so the person can stand to better themselves. You have to get ahead of the pain so you feel like rebuilding. So just because your horse goes back to working great, just remember at some point injections will wear off... Do you want to be at the end of a goal for a fitter horse that won't sore up again or do you want to be back at that rock bottom with a horses that has bad habits from compensating because the problem was only temporarily covered up.
Be in it for the long haul... Your body and horse will thank you.