Friday 10 May 2013

The Paddy Puzzle (or When is a back problem really a foot problem?)

Paddy is an ex-racehorse who has been here just over 6 weeks and like most horses who come here, he is making big changes to his feet. That's just as well since he arrived with a diagnosis of being 4-6/10 lame and the lameness blocked to his feet.
However, Paddy was not content to give us one problem and had thrown another one into the mix. 

Now, its not unusual for horses to arrive here with shoulder or back pain - in fact, its more common than not, and its usually related to the pain in the forelimbs. Its something I blogged about in more detail here:

If horses have a regular physio or bodyworker who sees them, its typical (and always satisfying!) for me to get a report like this one (from Red's owner recently) once horses go home: "She reckons Red is "a million times better" than when she saw her last time in the front end". 
Its also common for horses to be lacking topline; the top photo is Paddy the day he arrived, and the lower photo is 6 weeks later, so things were improving (although yes, Paddy's asymmetry is very clear!).
However despite being otherwise a good weight, he was still not building as much muscle as he should have been (as you can see in the lower photo); I was concerned that there was something more going on and agreed with his owner to get the vet to take a look. 
At this point I wasn't sure if it was a metabolic issue (like ulcers or a liver problem) but our vet immediately focussed on Paddy's back and this is what we found... 
This is an x-ray of Paddy's spine showing some of the thoracic vertebrae (click on it to enlarge). You can see that the tips of the first few spinous process are eroded and that further along they are fused and deformed. 

The good news is that this is old damage which is no longer painful for Paddy but of course his back does have restricted flexibility which is why he loses muscle so severely when he is not in work and finds it hard to rebuild. 

Its a good example of when a back problem is genuinely a back problem, rather than being related to foot pain and its an even more dramatic illustration of the damage you can do by putting weight on a horse's back at too young an age, as is so common in the racing industry.  

I'm glad to say though that Paddy has the all-clear to carry on with his rehab and I will post a more detailed update on his hooves shortly!


RedsMum said...

Onwards and upwards Paddy, good to get some sort of explanation. Would be interesting to know how he's going to be able to build up tone once his feet are resolved.

Emma Kitteridge said...

My poor Paddy - he has got such a lot to contend with! Having said that, he's actually looking loads better than he did when I dropped him off, and the new angle of his hoof growth is amazing.

Surprisingly, when I did jump him a few times last year you would never have guessed that he had a problem with his back. At least we know that he can put on muscle and now armed with the knowledge about his back, any work will be aimed at building and maintaining his topline.... So onwards and upwards!!

He would have made a fab eventer, but he will have to settle for being a dressage diva instead!!

Emma Kitteridge said...

Reds mum,
I have been advised to lots of lunging with a Pessoa, using ground poles, stretches, and also to use a water treadmill to help build it up. Last year he did put on quite a bit of muscle and I had to go up a saddle size. That was with just doing flat work as I didn't really lunge him because he went round on the lunge like it was the wall of death! So I know he can put on muscle, obviously now we know he has a problem, it means that the work can be much more targeted. When schooling he generally goes in a long low outline anyway, so I think it was this that helped him before.
He won't have anyone on his back until he has muscled up some more.
Amazingly he's never been in any pain and can buck and hoon around like an idiot if he feels like it. We only discovered he had a because he lost his topline so quickly after being out of work and thought he might have ulcers, so got the vets out who took one look at him & said its his back, not ulcers, then went on to x ray him.

Unknown said...

That is fascinating. Is the vet’s logic that correct work will build muscle and help to space out the spinal processes? Like with a kissing spine horse, getting them to work rounder, and build topline, creates more space for the spine vertebraes? So once muscle built back up, spine should be more comfortable?

RedsMum said...
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Nic Barker said...

BB, the spinous processes aren't causing him pain and are fused so they won't change.

RedsMum, he had lost his topline months before he came here-in fact he has built up some muscle in the last 6 weeks. It was the fact that he was out of work with his lameness over the winter which led to him losing muscle.

Unknown said...

Thanks Nic re the last comment regarding paddys muscle loss being due to out if work for 6 months before Rockley. Beanie same situ and also now building muscle again. Just as an example of muscle loss relating to feet. Beanie lf side shoulder has muscle loss relating to his left front lameness. Great that paddys problem has been discovered and that work rehabbing that area is possible for him.

RedsMum said...

(Edited) Thanks for that, I really wish you the very best of luck, seems such a shame that the time off prior to going to Rockley had undone all the hard work you had already put in on his topline..
Still you have one more part of the picture in place now, that's got to be good.

Nic Barker said...

Sounds like Paddy has everyone wishing him well, which can only help :-)

Julie, yes, muscle loss from being out of work is really common in the horses who come here-in fact most have it to some degree, as you pointed out with Beanie. With most horses it comes back very quickly. Fingers crossed Paddy will catch up over the next few weeks :-)