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Equine osteopathy



  • Osteopathy via The Osteopathy Act 1993 has both protected title and self-statutory regulation. Practitioners have to be human trained and follow a 4 or 5 year honours degree program which includes 1000 hours of clinical practice. All practitioners have to be members of the General Osteopathic Council and carry full professional indemnity insurance plus they have to fulfil a mandatory yearly 30 hours of CPD.
  • An osteopath has to ensure that a patient is fit to be treated the practitioner must be able to distinguish the pain from an underlying disease process, from that of a musculoskeletal condition. Failure to identify, for example, a prolapsed disc, a metastasis or osteoporotic fracture where appropriate medical referral should occur, would allow the GOsC to investigate the fitness to practice of a practitioner if a patient complains, and they could have the osteopath struck off the register.
  • As with physiotherapy there are post graduate training opportunities to enable osteopaths to treat animals. In doing so practitioners are governed by the Veterinary Surgeons (Exemptions) Order 1962. This is at the crux of successful Veterinary Osteopathy treatment should only be provided when the horse has been seen and the condition diagnosed by a veterinary surgeon. Unfortunately compliance with the law is often disregarded by both the veterinary profession and equine therapists, encouraging the widespread practice amongst horse owners to seek advice from a therapist in the first instance thereby bypassing the veterinary profession entirely.
  • For further information visit the General Osteopathic Council website to download a copy of  The Osteopathy Act 1993 , and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons website to download a copy of  The Veterinary Surgoens Act 1996  (pdf format).

The osteopathic ethos

  • Osteopathy embraces the biopsychosocial model of health and disease (as attributed to the work of George L Engel in 1977) in preference to the reductionist biomedical model of medicine. The biomedical model only defines illness in terms of biological processes and does not acknowledge the influence of the mind, the environment, nutrition and other social factors on the health and well being of the body. Advances in medicine are beginning to favor the holistic approach, cutting and stitching being supported by other treatment modalities - Aromatherapy and massage have been found to enhance the response of cancer patients to treatment both physically and psychologically (according to research conducted by the Marie Curie Cancer Care Centre in London) while massage has been reported to improve sleep in patients with advanced cancer.
  • An osteopath therefore works to improve health, wellbeing and performance a 70 year old man may need treatment to enable him to carry out the basic daily activities of dressing, feeding and hygiene, whereas with a sport horse therapy might be aimed at enabling the animal to jump a line of fences and keep them at a certain height. Treatment is aimed at maximizing musculoskeletal function and normalizing overall function of the whole body - this is contrary to the view that many hold that the os in osteopathy implies that only bones/joints, and specifically those of the spine, are addressed through treatment.
  • Interestingly, world renowned equine vets Professor JeanMarie Denoix and Jean-Pierre Paillow also subscribe to this approach stating a favorable psychological and neuroregulatory environment provides a healthy and nurturing dynamic conversely, the first signs of illness or distress can often be detected in poorly coordinated and precipitate movements (from their book Physical Therapy and Massage 1996).
  • Additionally osteopathy is aimed at preventing dysfunction and can therefore be used as a system for the continuous monitoring of function and performance.

The aim of osteopathic intervention

  • To restore or maximize normal function. 
  • Any treatment rational requires the practitioner to have determined what might be inhibiting normal function.
  • To reduce pain.
  • To improve posture and postural control.
  • To enhance body function and health and promote efficient and, where applicable, enhanced range of movement (ROM).

It may be contraindicated to enhance lumbar-pelvic ROM in a horse with diminished stride behind due to tarsometatarsal disease   Tarsus: osteoarthritis (bone spavin)   or to manipulate the neck if there is cervical stenosis   Spine: cervical vertebral malformation (CVM)  or instability, or to manipulate the pelvis if there is a possibility of a fracture   Pelvis: fracture  .

  • To improve/enhance performance and reduce the potential for re-injury.
Print off the Owner factsheet on Complementary therapies to give to your clients.

The osteopathic process

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Therapeutic tools

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Uses for osteopathy

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Evidence to support osteopathy

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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Colles C M, Nevin A & Brooks J (2014) The osteopathic treatment of somatic dysfunction causing gait abnormality in 51 horses. Equine Vet Educ 26 (3), 148-155 VetMedResource.
  • Demiturk F et al (2008) Interferential Current versus biofeedback results in urinary stress incontinence. Swiss Med Wkly 138 (21-22), 317-321 PubMed.
  • Stringer J, Swindell R & Dennis (2008) Massage in patients undergoing intensive chemotherapy reduces serum cortisol and prolactin. Psychooncology 26 PubMed.
  • Sullvan K A, Hill A E & Haussler K K (2008) The effects of chiropractic, massage and phenylbutazone on spinal mechanical nociceptive thresholds in horses without clinical signs. Equine Vet J 40 (1),14-20 PubMed.
  • Cleland J A et al (2007) Short term effects of thrust versus nonthrust mobilisation/manipulation directed at the thoracic spine in patients with neck pain: a randomised clinical trial. Phys Ther 87 (4), 421-440 PubMed.
  • Gomez Alvarez C B et al (2008) Effect of chiropractic manipulations on the kinematics of back and limbs in horses with clinically diagnosed back problems. Equine Vet J 40 (2), 153-159 PubMed.
  • Degenhardt B F et al (2007) Role of osteopathic manipulative treatment in altering pain biomarkers: a pilot study. J Am Osteopath Assoc 107 (9), 387-400 PubMed.
  • Senbursa G, Baltaci G & Atay A (2007) Comparison of conservative treatment with and without manual physical therapy for patients with shoulder impingement syndrome: a prospective, randomised clinical trial. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Atrhrosc 15 (7), 915-921 PubMed.
  • Haussler K K & Erb H N (2006) Pressure Algometry for the detection of induced back pain in horses: a preliminary study. Equine Vet J 38 (1), 76-81 PubMed.
  • Haussler K K & Erb H N (2006) Mechanical Nociceptive Thresholds in the axial skeletons of horses. Equine Vet J 38 (1), 70-75 PubMed.
  • Macgregor J & Graf von Schweinitz D (2006) Needle electromyographic activity of myofascial trigger points and control sites in equine cleidobrachialis muscle an observational study. Acupunct Med 24 (2), 61-70 PubMed.
  • Wakeling J M et al (2006) Effects of Manipulative therapy on the longissimus dorsiin the equine back. Equine and Comp Exercise Physiol (3),153-160 VetMedResource.
  • Hayden J A et al (2005) Exercise Therapy for treatment of non specific low back pain. Cochrane Database Systems Rev 20 (3), CD000335 PubMed.
  • Licciardone J C, Brimhall A K & King L N (2005) Osteopathic manipulative treatment  for low back pain: a systematic review and meta- analysis of randomised controlled trials. BMC Musculoskelet Disord (6), 43 PubMed.
  • Zainuddin Z  et al (2005) Effects of massage on delayed onset muscle soreness, swelling and recovery of muscle function. J Athl Train 40 (3),174-180 PubMed.
  • Bronfort G et al (2004) Efficacy of spinal manipulation and mobilisation for low back pain: a systematic review and best evidence synthesis. Spine J (3), 335-356 PubMed.
  • Faber et al (2003) Long term follow up of manipulative treatment in a horse with back problems. J Vet Med 50 (5), 241-245 PubMed.
  • Delaney J et al (2002) The short term effects of myofascial trigger point massage therapy on cardiac autonomic tone in healthy subjects. J of Advanced Nursing 37 (4) 364-371 PubMed.
  • Bronfort G et al (2001) A randomised clinical trial of exercise and spinal manipulation for patients with chronic neck pain. Spine Apr 26 (7), 788-797 PubMed.
  • Wilkinson S et al (1999) An evaluation of aromatherapy massage in palliative care. Palliat Med 13 (5), 409-417 PubMed.
  • Engel George L (1977) The need for a new medical model. Science 196, 129-136 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Clayton H M (2004) Ed. The Dynamic Horse - A Biomechanical Guide to Equine Movement and Performance. Sport Horse Publications, Manson, MI. ISBN-10: 097476700X; ISBN-13: 978-0974767000.
  • Denoix J M & Pailloux J P (2001) Physical Therapy and Massage for the Horse. Manson publishing Ltd, UK. ISBN-10: 1840760141; ISBN-13: 978-1840760149.
  • Willem B & Clayton H M (2000) Eds. Equine Locomotion. W B Saunders, UK. ISBN-10: 070202483X; ISBN-13: 978-0702024832.
  • Travell J G & Simons D G (1992) MyofascialPain and Dysfunction - Vol 2. The Trigger Point Manual. Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore. ISBN-10: 0683083678; ISBN-13: 978-0683083675.

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