Scientific research on equine massage is still in its infancy, so I am always excited when I see new studies coming out.
Indeed, as more and more people incorporate therapies like massage, chiropractic and physiotherapy into the health-care management of their horses, there is a concurrent need for more research to ensure that the best practices and most effective treatments are employed.
New study looks at the relationship between equine massage and stride length
In a study published in the Equine Veterinary Journal, researchers from the Royal Veterinary College in England sought to determine if massage of the caudal muscles of the hindlimb (those that run along the back of the leg) has an influence on stride length and passive range of motion in the horse.
Eight horses were used in the study, all between the ages of 8-14. All were in regular work, free from injury or orthopaedic disease, and were identically managed at the same riding school.
During the first phase of the study, half the horses received massage for 30 minutes and the other half a 30 minute sham treatment. Passive hind limb range of motion (protraction) was assessed both before and after the treatments, as well as stride length at the trot. The person collecting the data was unaware which treatment the horses had received.
After a 7 day “wash-out” period, the treatment groups were switched so that those horses that were previously massaged received the sham treatment, and vice versa. Measurements were again recorded before and after by someone blind to the type of treatment received.
The researchers found that equine massage to the caudal muscles of the hindlimb produced a statistically significant increase in passive protraction and stride length. They also noted that the increase in stride length was associated with an increase in trotting speed.
The sham treatment, on the other hand, produced no measurable changes in stride length or passive protraction.
In their published report of the study, the researches state:
“This study indicates that massage can increase protraction of the equine hind limb. Massage may, therefore, play a valuable role in the development of strategies used to improve a horse’s locomotor function, e.g. during a period of rehabilitation or when optimum performance is required for competition.”
As they note, “If massage to the caudal muscles of the hindlimb can increase protraction in ‘normal subjects’, it may well be beneficial in enhancing equine performance pre- and post trauma.”
Equine Massage Technique
The horses in the study were each massaged by the same practitioner using General Swedish Massage techniques. Effleurage, a massage technique which uses long, light or firm strokes, was interspersed with Petrissage kneading, utilizing grasping, rolling and pressing movement.
The horse’s muscles specifically targeted in the 30 minute massage session included the superficial gluteal, and hamstrings group of semitendinosus, biceps femoris and semimembranosus.
C. Hill, T. Crook. “The Relationship between massage to the equine caudal hindlimb muscles and hindlimb protraction.”Equine Veterinary Journal. November 2010, Vol. 42, p683-687.