Kissing Spine in Horses | Symptoms, Causes & Treatment
Kissing Spine in horses
Kissing Spine in horses is an equine condition of the spine where the spaces between the horses vertebrate become so reduced that they actually touch; this touching effect relates to the ‘kiss’ in the term ‘kissing spines’ and can create significant pain and lameness in your horse.
The exact cause of a horse developing kissing spine is unknown although it is thought to be directly related to the horses conformation and their early development.
The condition is clinically known as Overriding Dorsal Spinous Process (ORDSP) - widely known as ‘Kissing Spine’. It is similar to equine arthritis but specifically diagnosed as a separate condition.
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. 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’.
Symptoms of Kissing Spine in horses
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.
The most common symptom of horse with kissing spine is a reduction in performance.
If you have a sports horse you may see signs of them refusing to jump or an overall reduction in flexibility and athleticism. This is of significant importance when competing your horse whether in dressage, showjumping, eventing or the majority of equine disciplines.
Many horses with symptoms of kissing spine 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.
Some horses with kissing spine will naturally shift their weight which can lead to discomfort or pain, and sometimes lameness, in other aspects of their body including their legs and fetlocks.
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. Spotting equine lameness early is a key skill with caring for horses ad this applies to Kissing Spine.
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, with thermal imaging also providing a valuable and relatively low-cost form of diagnosis technology.
The most reliable and accurate technology for diagnosing kissing spine remains 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 in horses
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 full work after a period of care, rest and recuperation.
Initially and in all cases of kissing spine the horse will be issued a period of box rest. 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.
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. A relatives new form of therapy which is now widely available within the equine community is hydrotherapy. Hydrotherapy involves a water filled treadmill which lightly works the horses muscles (and spine) and assists in strengthening their core muscles.
The majority of horses will require a series of anti-inflammatory NSAID pain medications and in some cases local injections or shockwave therapy will be administered.
Many owners now resort to alternative therapies such as advanced magnetism and equine supplements to aid their horses recovery in as naturally way as possible. StreamZ are one of the worlds leading manufacturers in this field.
Others seek various holistic and alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage therapy, chiropractic work and further physiotherapy sessions.
Upon signs that the condition is improving the horse will have a pre agreed routine to return back to exercise. Your vet will be well placed to work with you on setting the right routine for your horse.
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.
Does kissing spine require surgery?
Severe cases of kissing spine may involve surgery; although this is rare as many cases of kissing spine are caught relatively early. If surgery is required some vets will carry out more than one type of surgery.
There are three main types of kissing spine surgery carried out on horses:
Interspinous Ligament Desmotomy (ISLD) surgery for Kissing Spine
This is the most commonly used form of surgery for kissing spine and is known as Interspinous Ligament Desmotomy (ISLD), the most least invasive surgery option for horses with kissing spine. This surgery 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 a 6 week period of rehabilitation.
Osteoplasty surgery for Kissing Spine
Osteoplasty is a form of surgery where the bony spinous sections of the spine are removed under general anaesthetic and requires sedation - essentially the vet shaves off some of the bones which are kissing together. This surgery is deemed an ‘invasive form of treatment’ and requires a significant rehabilitation and recovery period. It is also not cheap!
Ostectomy surgery for Kissing Spine
This form of surgery is similar to Osteoplasty but is basically more invasive and involves removal of far more of the bone. As opposed to hiding the space between the vertebrae with Osteoplasty surgery, Ostectomy surgery involves removal of a substantial amount of bone.
Preventing Kissing Spine in horses
As with any athlete, prevention of many types of injuries and health conditions can be achieved through physical training and conditioning. This is the same for kissing spine. Making sure the horse has stretched properly before exercise and after is an important step and working on strengthening their core can also help.
With the most common position of the injury being directly where the saddle sits; this would naturally indicate an issue with the saddle being the culprit. As with many equine heath conditions, having a properly fitted saddle is important.
Chiropractic adjustments can be routinely done on highly active or competing horses; helping to align their spine properly and preventing the onset of the condition.
Acupuncture is also widely used within the equine community to support back pain.
Wearable apparel and tack is now widely available developed to prevent various equine joint conditions before they occur.
Ensure the horses saddle fits correctly
Irrelevant to what discipline you ride in, having a correctly fitted saddle is vital in ensuring the ongoing wellbeing of your horse. A well-fitted saddle enables your horse to be naturally free in their movement without putting pressure on certain bones or joints in their body.
As your horses muscles and weight change through the year; so does the fitting requirements of their saddle. Because of this it is advised that their saddle fit is tested every 6-months or so.
Natural herbs used on horses with Kissing Spine
Herbal supplements are widely marketed within the equine community. If competing horses are showing early signs of back pain they cannot be administered many of the painkillers and medications available on the market; in this scenario many natural and herbal options can be administered.
With many horse owners taking the holistic approach to caring for their horse; natural remedies and therapies are on the rise.
Vitamins and nutrients can keep muscle metabolism active and supply much needed amino acids, vitamins and minerals to the living system. Vitamin C and B3 are a provitamins and have shown to support muscle development.
Although many are non clinical treatments, many horse owners now look to provide their horses with a mix and balanced vitamin diet by way of equine supplements - some of which are specifically formulated to provide support to joints and the spine.
If your horse is diagnosed with Kissing Spine; it’s not the end the world. In the vast majority of cases the horse will be managed medically and without surgery. An extended period of recuperation will be required and very few professional horses are retired due to the condition.
As with many conditions and health-related concerns when maintaining horse; prevention is as important as cure - so taking the right steps with their saddle and providing regular stretching and physical work will really help to avoid your horse developing Kissing Spine.
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 of 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.
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