January 2009

Osteopathy  A scientific approach

Self-Healing…a Scientific Approach

by Karen Brown

Many techniques initially developed for humans eventually find their way into veterinary medicine. Among the modalities that have been adapted to the animal world is osteopathy. It was originally developed over 100 years ago as a means to detect and heal disease in the human body. The premise of osteopathy is that a living body is an inter-related entity with an inborn ability to maintain or return to optimum health provided that the structure, or musculo-skeletal system, is functioning within the boundaries of its natural balance.

Olympic dressage riders and world champion cutters, ropers, and barrel racers are only a small segment of horsepeople who use osteopathy as a means to keep their horses in top physical condition. Indeed, these trainers and riders readily admit that regular osteopathic treatment has kept their horses winning at the top competitions in their sports. These horses are also competing longer and more frequently than their same-age counterparts.

When would a horse owner want to obtain the services of an osteopath? In fact, there are hundreds of symptoms that might indicate the need for an osteopath. Lameness of all kinds is only one category of symptoms that may be addressed. Given the interconnection between the musculo-skeletal system and the rest of the body, it is quite common to have a lameness issue that is caused by a problem somewhere else in the body. Any type of persistent resistance or unwillingness to flex or bend is a sign that the horse could have a structural blockage.

For example, a horse with a heavy parasite load will have a group of blocked vertebra in the thoracic spine. Another horse with an infection in any organ in the pelvic room will have a different group of blocked vertebra, this time in the lumbar spine. Horses with these kinds of visceral disorders will have difficulty moving freely, even when the disorder may not yet be detectable by clinical testing. Visceral disorders first must be treated by a veterinarian; once they have been resolved the osteopath would manipulate any remaining structural or visceral imbalances. The horse would then regain ultimate freedom of movement.

How about the horse that has a stiff shoulder? No amount of shoulder-ins or leg yields has made any improvement. Physical examinations have elicited no cause for the horse to be limited. Months of training have achieved little or no improvement in the shoulder. Perhaps there is a restriction in the movement of the scapula, one or more ribs, or in the withers. The restriction could actually be coming from the back end of the horse. Because of the neurological connections coursing through the body, the probability of a sacrum problem is very strong.

What about the horse that can’t keep his weight over his pivot leg in a spin or cross-fires in the lope? This, too, could be from blockages in the sacrum, pelvis, or stifles. These types of imbalances are seldom revealed in a standard lameness test and, generally, the horse manages to do his job. The osteopath can often remedy these types of issues immediately and with lasting results.

Do you know of a horse that spooks “for no reason”? It’s possible that his eyesight is unclear from vertebral blockages in the wither area. One of the nerves that runs between these vertebrae is the oculomotor nerve which provides information to the eyes. If that nerve is pinched, its impulses will be distorted and the brain will not be able to properly decode what the eye is seeing.

Have you ever had a horse that wouldn’t let you touch his ears? Or tried to kick every time you brush his flanks? Many horses stick their tongues out of the mouth or move it over the top of the bit. These types of behaviors are always attributed to a bad attitude, yet all of these kinds of symptoms point to neurological disturbances caused by imbalances in the musculo-skeletal system.

Virtually any discrepancy from normal function can be assessed in an osteopathic examination. The first rule of observation is that “Everything means something.” Practically every horse owner has noticed an oddity about their horse’s body or behavior; yet no one seems to know what or why the condition exists. This is where the expertise of an osteopath is essential.

Specialized knowledge of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) provides the physiological data he needs to connect those strange body symptoms or behaviors to the other body parts that are actually in distress and are the sources of those “symptoms”. When the body is viewed as an independent collection of parts, however, these types of symptoms are ignored and thus, valuable clues to the source of disease are overlooked.

These practitioners study the same science taught in veterinary school; however, they extend their education to include intensive scrutiny of the ANS. The ANS is the internet of the body. Through its channels, the body communicates between body parts and these parts react together when something is wrong. Osteopaths are taught to follow the trail from surface symptoms to the source of the problem. That source can be a long way from the obvious symptom and without focusing on the systemic-wide functions of the ANS the two would never be considered as part of the same problem.

Veterinarians who currently practice osteopathy have found that it expands the knowledge gained in university and from there, they develop an integrated approach to their practice combining osteopathic principles with standard medical protocol. Osteopathy is a modality that, once learned, becomes an integral part of the vet’s protocol. It’s NOT an alternative medicine; it becomes another tool of the trade on a par with drugs, surgery, and clinical diagnostics.

It takes years of training to become competent in osteopathy. Excellent palpation skills, specialist-level knowledge in anatomy, biomechanics, and physiology, and training in manipulation techniques are only part of a comprehensive education. The equine osteopath should either be a licensed veterinarian or be working within the scope of each state’s veterinary practice laws. Anyone without proper schooling, certification, or insurance should not be allowed to work on your horse.

If you would like to learn more about osteopathy or would like to locate an osteopath in your area call The Vluggen Institute of Equine Osteopathy at 512-448-3152 or go to www.vluggeninstitute.com.

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