Our horses are expected to perform as elite athletes and as such they need the best of care in equine medicine to ensure that they are performing at the top of their abilities. Physical equine therapy (sometimes called physiotherapy) is one of the tools for creating a top-performing equine athlete, and physical therapy comes in many shapes and forms.
One category of physical therapy for horses is electrotherapy, which is typically done in the setting of an equestrian rehab facility. We will give a brief overview of some of the different types of electrophysical therapy for the equine athlete.
What Are Electrophysical Therapies for the Equestrian?
Therapeutic use of electrical stimulation has been in use for many decades in humans and, more recently, in veterinary medicine. The application of electrical stimulation can be used for many purposes. Electrophysical therapy has been used to reduce pain,¹ improve flexibility, increase muscle growth and reduce swelling,² stimulate circulation, and aid in healing.
How Does Electrophysical Therapy Work?
Very simply, electrophysical therapy uses electric energy applied to the skin to stimulate the underlying nerves and muscles. The electrical charges stimulate certain motor nerves to cause muscle contraction² or by stimulating sensory nerves to release neurochemicals that reduce pain.¹
The application of an electrical current causes these biological reactions, which are identical to the reactions the body would have if the muscles and nerves were stimulated through movement or pressure or other modalities.² This allows the body to respond in a natural way and results in reduced pain and swelling, while allowing muscle strengthening without risking further injury since it can be used while the horse is on stall rest or restricted activity.
The use of electrophysical therapy is not painful; at most there may be a tingling sensation on the skin. At times it is possible to see certain muscles contracting when the pulses of electricity are applied, and this is also not at all painful. There are different types of electrophysical therapy and in the next section we will go over some of the most common.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
The use of TENS in treating acute or chronic pain in humans is becoming more well known. TENS units are even available over the counter in most areas. The use of TENS in equine physical therapy calls for special training and specialized equipment for horses. TENS stimulates the production of endorphins to reduce pain and helps to stimulate circulation as well.¹
Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES)
In NMES, a computer creates a signal that duplicates the natural response of a motor nerve and creates a series of managed muscle contractions that are easy to see occurring. This process stimulates the nerves to maintain muscle mass and strength while on a regimen of restricted movement.
There are a variety of types of NMES systems, and some provide stronger “bursts” of stimulation while others use biphasic systems to create pulsed currents.² A trained equine physical therapist will determine what type of stimulation is appropriate for each horse’s needs.
Interferential Therapy (IFT)
IFT involves the use of two different frequencies that are able to deliver low frequency electrical stimulation to tissues without the skin irritation that tends to occur when low frequencies are used on their own. The penetration of the lower frequencies allows this system to be used in ways that creates the benefits gained from both TENS and NMES treatments, making it very versatile.³
Other Types of Electrotherapy for Horses
Direct application of electrical stimulation like we’ve listed above are just some of the types of equine electrotherapy available from an equine physical therapist or rehab center. More broadly speaking, other treatments using electrotherapy are ultrasound, electromagnetic treatments, and the use of therapeutic lasers.
See Related Article: Introduction to Equine Physical Therapy
Laser therapy delivers lightwaves at various wavelengths to the afflicted areas to stimulate healing. The use of lasers has shown great promise for treating a variety of issues, such as wounds, as well as possibly career-ending injuries to ligaments and tendons.⁴
Vitafloor Is at the Forefront of Equine Care
Here at Vitafloor USA, we provide equipment as well as resources to help you find the best for the horses under your care. Equestrian industry professionals credit Vitafloor with helping them provide the utmost in care, maintenance, and equine rehabilitation for their stables. Look through our website to learn more.