What is Kissing Spine?

Overriding dorsal spinous processes (ORDSP), aka Kissing Spine. Kissing Spine is an equine condition of the spine where the spaces between the vertebrate become so reduced that they actual touch; this touching effect relates to the ‘kiss’ and can create significant pain and lameness in your horse.

Kissing Spine in Horses – Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

We look at the most common from of back pain in horses, ’Kissing Spine’.

Kissing spine in horses

In this article we look at kissing spine in more detail, how the condition is traditionally diagnosed and methods used to help treat it.

Kissing spine is thought to be the most common cause of back pain associated with horses. Similar to arthritis, the underlying cause of kissing spine is not fully understood. The condition can occur in all breeds and more commonly in horses over 5 years of age.

The issue occurs when the spaces between the horses vertebrae (spine) reduce to a point where they touch (kiss) each other – hence ‘kissing spine’. The bony prominence around each vertebrae helps the horses spine flex and extend so when this is reduced a lack of mobility and pain can be seen. The most common cases of kissing spine are found in the last few thoracic vertebra, interestingly where a saddle sits on a horse.

Although more common as a degenerative condition, kissing spine can also be exacerbated through an injury to the spine from a bad fall. Kissing spine caused by repeated trauma can also be diagnosed as Spinal Crowding Syndrome.

Kissing Spine Symptoms

Initial signs of kissing spine in a horse often include a change in the horses temperament, behaviour or soundness.You may notice levels of discomfort when fitting a saddle or when attempting to mount them. As the condition worsens the horse is likely to become overly sensitive around the back.

If you have a sports or jumping horse you may see signs of refusing to jump or an overall reduction in flexibility and athleticism. Many horses will tense their core back muscles to reduce strain on their vertebrae creating a significant level of stiffness and a visible change in their stride lengths, gait and performance.

With any horse suffering from back pain their overall mobility will be reduced and immediate veterinary care is required.

Diagnosing Kissing Spine

Initial diagnosis is often found early in the condition due to the reduction in mobility and changes in the animals demeanour.

There are multiple technologies veterinary professionals have at their disposal to help diagnose kissing spine clinically. A physical examination will be carried out where they will look at the horse being ridden either under saddle or on the lunge. If deemed necessary, this will then be followed by a series of scans or radiographic images (x-rays) to pin-point the issue. Further technologies such as ultrasound and thermography are also used to aid diagnosis.

The most reliable and accurate process is x-rays. These images allow the vet to inspect the distances between the horses vertebrae and make an accurate diagnosis, taking care to interpret the individual horse and its natural vertebrae alignment. In some cases nerve blocks will be used to help confirm the diagnosis. Once diagnosed treatment can begin.

Treating Kissing Spine

There remains no clinically approved cure for kissing spine but with careful managing and if caught early enough the majority of horses with early inset of Kissing Spine are able to return to work after a period of care.

Initially the horse will be issued a period of box rest.

Following a period of rest the horse will be introduced to a series of physiotherapy sessions aimed at strengthening the spinal muscles and ligaments surrounding the problem area. Depending on the severity of the condition will result in whether the horse is able to be ridden again, so rest and recuperation are vital before being ridden again.

The majority of horses will require a series of anti-inflammatory and pain medications and in some cases local injections or shockwave therapy. It is this stage where many owners resort to alternative devices such as magnetic boots and supplements to aid their horses recovery as naturally as possible. EQU StreamZ are one of the worlds leading devices in this field. 

Others seek various holistic and natural forms of therapy such as acupuncture, mesotherapy, chiropractic work and further physiotherapy.

More recently a few surgical techniques have been developed and implemented to help horses with kissing spine who have shown no benefit from less invasive methods. There are two main types of kissing spine surgery. One is a form of surgery where the bony spinous processes are removed under general anaesthetic or standing sedation. This surgery is deemed an invasive form of treatment and requires significant rehabilitation and recovery period. The second form is known as Interspinous Ligament Desmotomy (ISLD) and is a less invasive option. This can be done whilst the horse is standing and does not require sedation. This surgery involves cutting the ligaments connecting the effected spinous processes and can result in just a 6 week period of rehabilitation. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Kissing Spine

How do I test whether my horse has kissing spine?

Early signs of kissing spine can be made based on the horses history and a quick physical examination followed by radiograph Images (X-Rays).

Where is kissing spine normally found on a horse?

Kissing Spine is most commonly located on the spine of the horse, under where the saddle rests.

Is Kissing Spine genetic?

Kissing Spine is a degenerative condition caused over a period of time through movement of the vertebrae, it is not thought to be genetical.

Why is it called kissing spine?

Kissing Spine is a disease off the spine which leads to the upper dorsal processes of the vertebrae reducing meaning the vertebrae actually touch, or kiss, causing bone-on-bone contact and the pain associated with the condition.