Yearling Warmblood colt presented for lumbar kyphosis. History of rough play with other colts in the field, as well as an episode of rearing up and falling down while loading onto a horse trailer several weeks prior to presentation. Observation of the colt revealed an obvious convex appearance of the lumbar spine with atrophy of the epaxial muscles along the spine (loss of muscling along the horse’s topline). The spinous processes of the lumbar vertebrae appeared very prominent. The horse appeared stiff through his back at a walk, taking short strides with the hindlimbs and displaying poor lateral “swing” through the back. Motion palpation of the horse’s back revealed decreased mobility between the lumbar vertebrae, and increased mobility of the thoracic vertebrae, with mild muscle spasm along the lumbar spine. The vertebrae most severely affected were lumbar vertebrae 3, 4 and 5.
The affected vertebrae were appropriately adjusted, after which observation of the colt at a walk revealed more reach with the hindlimbs and improved lateral swing. After the adjustments, the colt appeared quite relaxed and comfortable, and laid down in the stall for a nap.
Over the course of several weeks following treatment, the colt had a growth spurt. The back appeared to flatten and become longer than at the first examination. The kyphosis completely resolved and did not return as the colt matured.
This case study illustrates the value of spinal manipulation in young, growing horses. In this case, a serious conformational flaw was corrected that would otherwise have become a permanent defect had it been left untreated. Young horses are prone to development of spinal kyphosis (convex or rounded shape of the spine) due to rearing and falling down during rough play with pasture mates or during handling or training sessions. The loss of topline musculature is also worth noting. When mobility between vertebrae is no longer normal, bloodflow is obstructed, causing inadequate oxygen and nutrients to be delivered to the tissues. This can happen very rapidly and dramatically in young, growing horses, as their metabolism is very high and they require a high level of nutrition compared to the average mature horse. Lack of muscle along the topline is not only unsightly, but also predisposes the horses to further injury because underdeveloped muscles do not provide optimal protection to bones, joints, and other underlying tissues. This case also shows how effective spinal manipulation is in young horses, and how quickly they respond to treatment. The colt in this case returned to normal within two months after only one treatment session.