Understanding muscle pain

  • If a horse has a big wound, you can immediately see a hole and take appropriate action. If a horse has muscle pain, it is more difficult to detect and therefore start appropriate treatment.

    Humans are often all too aware when they have overexerted themselves, ending up with sore muscles. We know when we need, at the very least, a hot bath, if not some painkillers or physiotherapy. Unfortunately, a horse cannot explain aches and pains, but if it has muscle pain, this will affect its ability to work properly.

    Low-grade muscle damage is a common cause of poor performance. One recent survey of 348 horses evaluated for poor performance showed that nearly 20% had underlying muscle problems.

    The difficulty is that the majority of these cases were not showing any obvious signs and were only detected by blood tests after treadmill exercise. So even if your horse is not performing properly, it can be hard to prove that this is due to muscle pain.

    Signs that suggest that a horse may have a muscle disorder include:

    • A history of stiffness; abnormal hindlimb action or shortened forelimb action
    • Muscle cramping
    • Pain on palpation of affected muscles
    • Muscle twitches or tremors
    • Muscle swelling or tenderness: not as obvious as one would think in a horse
    • Exercise intolerance
    • Reduced stride length
    • Weakness
    • Muscle wastage

    Read about azoturia >>

    Read about EPSM >>

  • This veterinary feature was published in full in Horse & Hound (2 June, ’05)

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