Why use a McTimoney Animal Practitioner

A popular saying among soft tissue specialists is, “the muscles hold the bones together, you don’t need to adjust the bones, it doesn’t release the muscles”. This common misconception stems from a misunderstanding about how spinal manipulation actually works. It does release the deep postural muscles as I will explain.
As a side note, the bones are held together by ligaments, the muscles attach via tendons and create the power to move the joints, rather than physically holding them together in the majority of cases. Releasing the muscles through soft tissue techniques doesn’t automatically bring the spine and joints back into alignment and so the same restrictions can crop up over and over again.
I started out as an equine sports massage therapist and got great results, the horses were happy, my clients were happy, but there was something I felt was missing from my practice. After training as a McTimoney Animal Practitioner, I am now of the opinion that to truly rehabilitate the body back to full function and prevent further injury occurring, the release of all joints and soft tissues must first take place. This allows functional full range of motion before rehabilitation can occur with the use of exercise, stretching etc. As someone who suffers from back pain due to a spinal injury, I know first-hand how painful stretching and mobilisation can be if muscles are tight and the body has not been brought into alignment first. Symmetrical muscle building occurs more quickly, and is more effective, once all spasms, tension and restrictions through the joints have been removed.
The muscles that are affected directly by spinal manipulation lay deep within the back and neck. These muscles control posture and stabilise the spine, they are always firing, so restriction and dysfunction of these muscles causes pain during everyday tasks and ridden activities for the horse. The most important muscles are called the multifidus, which sits directly next to and around the spine. It is composed of two sections, one which runs from the pelvis to the base of the neck and the second part which runs the length of the neck. The psoas is another important muscle which sits inside the pelvis, attaching to the underside of the lumbar spine and to the top of the femur. It is often implicated in recurrent low back pain, and forms an important part of the horses core muscles, it needs to function correctly for the horse to be able to work without pain and with correct biomechanics.
Using ultrasound scanning, researchers have found that spinal manipulation does release the deep multifidus muscle. Spasm of this muscle causes a decrease in the cross sectional depth of the muscle, after spinal manipulation the cross section measurement was increased, showing that manipulation of the spine causes release of muscle spasm in the deep postural muscles. In human patients the muscle spasms were found at the point that pain was felt, which was reported to have been relieved by spinal manipulation.
The McTimoney technique uses high speed movements to cause a joint to regain its full range of motion, this affects both the muscles and the myofacia, which is an important connective tissue that wraps around all muscles, bones and other structures within the body. The practitioner uses reflexes within their own muscles, which have been trained to respond during certain movements of the arms.
After an initial assessment of the horse, which includes questioning the owner or rider, watching for gait abnormalities, and checking that veterinary permission has been granted, the treatment can begin. When treating, the practitioner first feels for spinal misalignments, by feeling each side of the vertebrae. The tiny rotation of the bones can occur either due to tightening of the muscle attached to one side of the bone, or by direct trauma to the joints themselves, perhaps by getting cast or slipping and falling in the field. To release the tight muscle and realign the vertebrae, the practitioner places pressure on the bone to rotate it to its end of range of movement without forcing it. The McTimoney practitioner then uses a quick movement at the speed of a nerve reflex to “toggle” the bone and allow it to bounce back. This activates the nerves supplying the muscle which in turn releases it, allowing the muscle to relax. The stretch within the muscle and myofascia during adjustment and the consequent recoil of the bone causes relaxation of the muscles surrounding and attached to the bone.
This “relaxing and releasing” stage continues over time, and according to research I have conducted, can continue to create positive changes for up to 2 weeks after treatment. The nerves, which leave the spine by passing between the joints of the vertebrae, are now free from restriction to work at their optimum, the joints of the spine are now free to rotate through their full range of motion and muscles are now able to work at their optimum.

Adjusting the pelvic rotation on a horse

The practitioner will systematically move through the whole body making adjustments as necessary. Once the whole skeleton is realigned and the deep muscles have been released, it is then that massage or other techniques will be employed to make sure all the superficial muscles are released too. Personally I use a combination of sports massage, acupressure and myofacial release which gives a truly whole body treatment. I have found this approach leads to the need for fewer treatments to get the body to respond and stay in this prime state, treatments can be spaced further apart because it tends to hold for longer, allowing the muscles to build strength. Combined with good riding practices, a well-fitting saddle and further rehabilitation exercises given as part of the aftercare advice, the horse will begin to even up and will be able to use itself much more efficiently.
Horses that have strong muscles, good proprioception, and are fit, are far less likely to injure themselves. This is the aim of the McTimoney practitioner, to improve the horse, reduce the likelihood of repeated injury and allow for a longer, healthier working life. In the long run this reduces the amount of money spent by the owner, by reducing the number of treatments required and it reduces the amount of time to full recovery following the initial injury.
McTimoney practitioners are highly qualified and are trained at postgraduate degree level and hold an MSc in Animal Manipulation. They work alongside vets, riding instructors, saddle fitters, dentists and other allied professionals to help both the horse and owner or rider improve. Therapists will offer advice on changes that can be made and will refer to other professionals where necessary, to help owners get the best out of their horses, it gives great satisfaction to help a horse and owner move on, prevent early breakdown and give the horse the best chance of a long, healthy working life.

This article was published in Everything Horse UK magazine November 2014.

Hoof abscess? No stable? No problem!

If your horse lives out and gets a hoof abscess, what do you do, if you have no access to a stable or dry tie up area? Here I have included some photos of how to successfully poultice a hoof without a suitable area to stand your horse. Sadly, my last mare suffered from these on a regular basis, so I became a dab hand at poulticing, even when she lived out 24/7 in a wet muddy field in the winter!

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First scrub the foot out, here we are using hibiscrub, a water or dandy brush and a nail brush to really get the mud out from those hard to reach places.

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Placing foot on a folded towel will help keep the underside clean while you scrub the hoof and up to the pastern.

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No bad! Once the hoof is as clean as you can get it, place your drawing medium over the clean hoof, here I’m using nappies. For a large hoof you may need to use two.

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Then using vet wrap bandage in place.

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Next, wrap the hoof using thick polythene, plastic feed sacks are perfect, try cutting diagonally across the bag, the corner is the perfect shape for wrapping a hoof.

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Duck tape is your best friend here, using the same technique as bandaging, cover the plastic in waterproof tape, it needs to cover the whole of the hoof, especially the toe and hoof wall area which can break through the plastic and tape if not enough is applied over these areas. As long as you use enough tape and reapply the dressing twice a day, it should keep the hoof clean and dry while the poultice does its job.

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Just trim any excess plastic to prevent your horse from treading on it with the other leg and hey presto, your dressing will stay in place.

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Horse riders: a weighty issue.

Last week (March 25th) the press was buzzing with stories of overweight British riders causing suffering, pain and lameness to their horses, sparking debate amongst horse owners, worried that they were hurting their horses.  The research that these stories were based upon was published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour.  As a therapist, these stories drew my attention and prompted me to seek out the original paper.  On reading it, it was clear the press had blown it out of all proportion as usual!

The “10% criteria” as stated in the paper was being examined after an “industry practitioner” proposed that a 10% rider to horse bodyweight ratio to be optimum, 15% to be satisfactory and 20% to be a welfare issue.  All riders in the study were of a healthy body mass index (BMI), a medical measure of healthy body weight, and were found to be between 14.2% and 16.6% of their horses’ bodyweight.  The authors aknowledged that the 10% rule appeared to be unrealistic within the general riding population and that more research was needed.  No measures of rider suitability were made, neither were any measures of lameness or pain associated with increased rider weight.

When looking further into this issue, I uncovered research published in 2008 that found horses could comfortably carry 15% or 20% of their bodyweight, while carrying 25-30% caused increased breathing, heart rate took longer to return to pre-exercise levels, and post-exercise muscle soreness and tightness were more common.  Carrying over 30% of their bodyweight horses were also found to have increased blood lactate levels, a measure of how hard the muscles are working.  The researchers of this study also found that increased cannon bone circumference and horses with wider loins were able to carry more weight, a scientific understanding for measuring the cannon bone when judging weight carrying capacity.

In addition to this, research carried out on japanese native ponies found that they were more than capable of carrying up to 29% of their body weight without detrimental effect.

Riders obviously need to be sensible when following the results of any research.  A 500Kg cob with good conformation and no injuries would obviously be able to carry more weight than a 500Kg Thoroughbred.

Previous injury, age and conformation would all have an impact on how much weight a horse can carry.  Overweight horses would need to carry less weight that a similar horse of normal weight, carrying its own excess weight plus the weight of a heavy rider would inevitably cause problems, possibly lameness or muscle damage.

Regardless of how well a horse and rider are matched, taking into account their weight ratio, conformation, previous injuries and weight of the horse, being ridden with correct technique and training, with a rider that is truely self balanced is the best way to increase performance, longevity of working life, and welfare of the horse.

Preventing injuries in agility dogs

Regardless of whether you train for fun, fitness or competition, having your dog pick up an injury can be devastating.  Vets have recently become increasingly concerned about the number of dogs injured whilst training and competing in dog sports.

Careful management of your beloved pet can make all the difference with regards to lowering the risk of becoming injured.

Recent studies have found that keeping your dog within a healthy weight for its breed, height and age is the biggest factor for preventing injuries, especially concussion injuries and the early onset of conditions such as arthritis.

Research into agility has found that  the most common injuries are soft tissue sprains and strains.  A recent survey found that although the majority of competing dogs were uninjured, 33% of dogs in training had suffered an injury, while 58% of those injuries had occurred at a competition.  The shoulders were most commonly injured, followed by the back, stifle (knee), thigh, hip and toes.  The majority of injuries occurred on the A-frame, dogwalk or bar jump.  Training in Flyball on rubber matting was associated with an increased likelihood of arthritis, foot pad and dew claw injuries than those trained on grass, this would probably be similar for agility training, although no studies have looked at training on an equestrian sand surface, where many clubs often train.

If your dog becomes injured STOP.  Do not continue training or competing and seek help from your vet.  Helpful first aid is that anything that feels hot or warmer than usual to the touch should have an ice pack placed against it.  If it is in an area where the dog has less, or thin fur then wrap the ice pack in a flannel to prevent ice burns on the skin.  Try to hold it there for as long as the dog will allow, but no longer than 20 minutes at a time.  Repeat this several times a day until you can see your vet.

There are often signs before an injury happens that owners should pay attention to.  Slower than usual times, knocking poles, slower through the weave or corners are all signs that your dog may not be quite comfortable, or may have a muscle pull or strain.

If your dog is lame, then you need to speak to your vet and get proper treatment for the lameness.  Sometimes your vet may not be able to pinpoint a reason for why your dogs performance has decreased, especially if your dog is not actually lame, under these circumstances you may need to have your dog checked over by a therapist.  Therapists, such as McTimoney therapists, can help to alleviate tight muscles, which in turn can help prevent strain on tendons.  Tendons are more likely to be injured if the muscle associated with it is tight.  Treatment can help increase performance and prevent injury.  The therapist can advise on suitable exercises to help strengthen any weak muscles, this will help improve performance, prevent injury and allow your dog to continue enjoying agility for many years.  Regular treatment, say at the beginning or end of the indoor season, can help to spot any injuries or tight muscles before they prevent the dog from competing.

Following a suitable warm up and cool down routine will dramatically help lower the odds of picking up and injury, as will paying attention to your dogs overall fitness and energy levels, if your dog seems to have less energy than usual it may be necessary to speak to a qualified nutirtionist, veterinary nurse or vet about what to feed to increase vitality or control weight.

Starting out in agility and keeping your dog injury free

If you are thinking about taking agility up with your dog, first think about how fit your dog is.  Discuss with your vet any injuries your dog may have had in the past, and how this will affect his ability to enjoy agility.  If your dog needs to lose weight, then think about increasing your daily walks, walk further or faster, or increase the number of smaller walks in the day if possible, to help your dog to lose weight before starting any fast work.  Walking on the lead is the best exercise for obese dogs.  If you have a puppy, wait until the dog reaches maturity before undertaking any high impact work, such as repeated jumping at speed.  An immature skeleton or being overweight can lead to an increased risk in concussion injuries or affect joint development in the young dog.

While your dog is still unfit you can start to introduce the obedience aspect required for agility, and the agility equipment to your dog, in a safe environment and preferably with an experienced trainer.  They will introduce the equipment slowly and help to increase your dogs confidence.  The dog walk, weave, tunnel, and contact points can all be taught at a walk, on a lead.  For the health of your dog, leave any jumping until his weight is close to normal for his size, breed and age.  Your vet can help advise you when your dog is at a suitable weight to start jumping.

As your dog builds muscle, having him checked over by a qualified therapist can help prevent problems futher donw the road, the therapist will release tight muscles, this will help prevent muscles tears, and tendon strains, they can advise if the training can be pushed on or whether your dog needs to have less exercise for a while, allowing the body to repair and adjust to the increasing demand.

Remember to always warm both you and your dog up properly before starting any training, I have laid out some simple advice about warming up your dog in another article.

Being sensible and following the advise of your vet, trainer and therapist will help you and your dog to enjoy agility and help reduce the risk of any injuries occurring.

Guide to warming up your dog for competition or training

Whatever discipline you compete in or even if your dog is a working dog, the warm up is one of the most important factors in keeping your dog sound for the long term and injury free.  I would advise warming up even when training, whether you are practicing speed and obstacle skills or improving general behaviour training, the warm up will help your dog stay focussed and limber.  Warm up and cool down before and after every training session and competition, even if you are just training in your garden.

More than one study has looked at the effects of the warm up on injury rates, regardless of the sport and has found that dogs need to be warmed up for at least 9 minutes, otherwise muscle injuries are commonplace.

Start by brisk walking for 2 minutes, then trotting your dog for a few minutes (about 3 minutes) then introduce some cantering for a minute or 2, finally introduce some low jumps (for flyball and agility).

Include some active stretches after this, instead of holding your dog in a stretch, active stretching has proven, in both human and animal sport, to increase power and acceleration, while passive stretching, where the handler holds the dogs legs in a stretch, immediately before training and competing actually decreases performance.  Using a baited stretch, where a piece of food is used to move the dogs head around to his flank, while his feet stay where they are!  Move the dogs head between his front legs, by getting his nose to follow a treat, repeat on the other side. Active stretching prevents the muscles from being overstretched before strenuous exercise. Ask your dog to stand with his front legs on top of a box, to stretch the back and hind leg muscles. Teaching or encouraging your dog to “play bow” on command helps to stretch the shoulder, triceps and back muscles.

Finally at the end of the session remember to cool down effectively, 10 to 25 minutes of walking, start at a fast walk, then gradually change to a slower pace.

McTimoney Therapy for Cats

It’s not just dogs and horses that can need some help with physical therapy.

Most cats owners don’t think about having their cat treated when it looks stiff or sore.  Cats can get into all kinds of mischief, especially when they have free access to the outdoors. Jumping over fences, scaling walls, being chased or fighting with other cats can all cause misalignments which leads to tight muscles and eventually discomfort.  Repeated jumping or falls or slips from high place can lead to the cat compensating for a pulled muscle.

Limping or favouring one leg can cause muscle injuries elsewhere in the body.  McTimoney treatment can help compensatory injuries from developing, allowing your cat to live a long and active life.  I have three cats of and am experienced in handling them, I realise that cats are unused to being handled by strangers and work to help the animal feel relaxed during the treatment.  Continue to read about the case study of Pickle, pictured.

Pickle: Case Study.

Pickle had been lame for a couple of weeks after a fall, the vet suggested to keep her quiet until the lameness had gone.  After this time Pickle still walked “unusually” and had started to canter everywhere with an unusual gait, she was brought to me for treatment.

Pickle was a bit unsure at first but allowed me to make the first few adjustments, after that she relaxed enough for me to stand her square and was treated without any restraint.

After the treatment Pickle was back to her old self, chasing anything that moved, galloping at speed everywhere and seemed much more comfortable, even sleeping soundly where before she had woken often and moved around a lot.