Systemic Inflammation. It’s something that has cropped up a lot during change of seasons and can create a lot of havoc for animal health (and ours).

What Is Inflammation?

Inflammation is the body’s natural, immune system response to infection or other irritant whether it is an injury, a bacteria, virus, or living in a chronic state of fight-flight-freeze, or the sympathetic nervous system being in overdrive for an extended time period.

What Does Inflammation Look Like?

Inflammation doesn’t always fit all the boxes. When your animal has a wound, sometimes it becomes swollen and red. But these are only a few of the obvious symptoms:

  • Redness
  • Swelling also known as edema
  • Heat
  • Stiffness in joints. Fun fact, arthritis is swelling in the joints.
  • Lethargy
  • Discomfort to touch.

Some signs your horse has inflammation in the body:

  • Avoids physical touch.
  • Shies or moves away from grooming.
  • Kicks or nips when approached.
  • Hives or bumps across the neck or hindquarters.
  • Sensitivity to saddling or being ridden.

These tend to be the biggest indication and confirmed with thermal imaging.

This horse was defensive when approached You will note the areas of white are overwhelming and indicates a significant amount of heat and swelling

For your consideration, here is a horse that just received her first bodywork session off the track.

As you will see there are some minor areas of white but they are spread out and dull in color indicating they are isolated to specific areas rather than throughout the region of the body

Horses are prey animals and as a result often hide their discomfort until they can no longer do so. This animal has had their lymphatic system in overdrive for a long time, and only when the behavior became significant did they look for causes outside of ulcers.

Causes of inflammation can be a number of things including a high-sugar diet such as grain, injury, vaccinations, deworming, or even change if season or environment.

Treating Inflammation

Therapeutic massage techniques can be one of the most useful tools in our arsenal. Sure, you think your horse won’t do well with massage because they don’t like touch. And that’s true. Not every massage therapist is equipped to handle inflammatory horses. They will be picky and defensive. Instead, we like to address it with a less is more approach.

In the first session, I target trigger points for the lymphatic system and detoxify the kidneys to start the body’s natural processes of removing toxins so they begin to leave the body through movement, urine and feces.

Does your horse buck because they are being difficult or often need hock injections Consider there might be inflammation or pain before assuming your horse is being naughty

Then, depending on the horse, I recommend follow up in 2-4 weeks with acupressure and trigger point therapy to really begin toxin removal and lymphatic drainage. I do not ever recommend effleurage or compression due to the sensitivity in the animal, which can result in them becoming defensive, bracing, or even kicking and biting.

The process of removing systemic inflammation can take about 4-12 weeks depending on the horse and because sessions must be spread out to avoid increasing the horse’s sensitivity.

When fighting systemic inflammation, the immune system is the biggest warrior. A good probiotic to improve gut health, and thereby the immune system, can help especially if used in conjunction with vitamin E for musculoskeletal health and vitamin D3 to naturally reduce inflammation. Most importantly, there should be a slow change in diet to reduce inflammatory foods like soy and grain and replace with natural forage.

If you have a horse with suspected inflammation contact your vet, and then ask us how we can contribute to your horse’s wellness program.

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