Heat Treatment for Arthritis in Horses

Written by rebecca boardman
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Heat Treatment for Arthritis in Horses
Horses are notorious for developing leg problems, and heat therapy is a good choice for treatment. (horse legs image by Vita Vanaga from Fotolia.com)

Performance horses endure tremendous stress on their joints, legs and muscles. Like human athletes, it is not uncommon for them to suffer injuries, strains and pulls --which eventually can lead to arthritis. Knowing how to treat the various aches and pains of arthritis and other injuries can help the owners of performance horses keep horses at their best. Heat therapy is one of the treatment options available.


Keeping a performance horse sound is the key to success when they are in competition. Arthritis can derail this entire process. Since the horse is absolutely reliant on its legs and feet to keep itself going, any soreness can be a real problem. Arthritis causes swelling and pain, as well as wear and tear on the joints. This directly affects the immediate performance of the horse and his ability to continue to perform. Proactive treatment is key.


Heat therapy for arthritis in horses is much like treatment for arthritis in humans. By opening up the blood vessels and surrounding tissues, you are allowing inflammation to abate and encouraging blood flow, which also will lower inflammation by "washing" it out. Whether it is through a liniment, hot water therapy or vigorous massage, you are dilating the tissues through heat treatment and allowing blood to flow to the damaged tissues, an absolute must for healing. While cold therapy is good for an acute injury and swelling, heat therapy is the best choice for chronically stiff, arthritic joints.


One of the most common heat therapies for arthritis in horses is a topical analgesic that creates heat on the outer skin, increasing blood flow and serving as a numbing agent. Many of these liniments are in liquid form, others in gel or spray-on varieties. These can be quite strong, so read the label carefully to make sure you do not apply too much and burn your horse. Liniments often are applied both before and after exercise, and even are diluted and used as a full body wash after a hard workout.


Another great choice for arthritis is hot hydrotherapy. This requires a source of hot water and a hose, but it is an excellent choice. Hydrotherapy has been proven to bring down swelling and ease soreness. Adding heat to this can make stiff, arthritic joints feel better. Apply the water in force to the joint, starting slowly and working up to a full stream of pressure from the hose onto the affected area for about 20 minutes.

Wraps and Pads

In many cases, wraps and pads are not practical, as they are difficult to keep on as the horse moves around. But they can be useful if the animal is relatively immobilised while the treatment is applied. Heating wraps and pads should be applied to the affected joint over a protective towel, or layer of cotton gauze or fluff. Never apply the wrap or pad directly to skin, as you could easily burn the tissues. Apply for 20 minutes at a time, and make sure to walk the horse out after application to let the skin "breathe."

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