Applying traction to a horse’s tail is a widely-used therapy believed to help relieve back pain, but does recent research support its efficacy? Dr Peter Green explains...
EQUINE physical therapies vary: some are similar to human medical physiotherapy, while others are more akin to human alternative therapies. Whichever school of therapy the practitioner uses, traction is a common tool.
The tail pull is a widely used traction therapy, where the practitioner pulls steadily backwards on the tail for a short time and then repeats the procedure. It is claimed to relieve back pain.
Researchers used a group of 32 horses referred to a veterinary hospital in New Zealand for apparent back pain to assess the efficacy of the technique.
Their findings, recently published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, suggest that the claim may be justified.
Researchers assessed the horses for tenderness in the back muscles using an algometer. This medical instrument increases pressure point stimulation of soft tissues, to measure the threshold at which the pressure becomes unpleasant.
The response to pressure was measured at eight points along the backs of the horses, either side of the spine, from the back of the rib cage to the pelvis. A small digital weighing scale was then hooked into the plaited tail of each horse. A steady pull of 4.5kg was applied for 20 seconds, followed by a 10 second rest, then repeated twice more. The algometer measurements were taken once again.
After the tail pull therapy, the back muscles were much less tender. There could be several explanations for this effect, but we know that there are structural links between the tail and other regions of the back.
More research is under way.
Further reading: Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 93: tail pull traction
H&H 29 October 2020
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