SyncThermology Blog

Diagnosing Equine Back Problems

Friday, March 06, 2015  ‹ Back To Latest News List

SyncThermology regularly visit clients who suspect their horse may have a back issue and are looking for a way of establishing or ruling this out.  We are happy to arrange clinics and screening days as well as single visits nationally, so if this is something you are interested in, visit the Technicians page which is located in the About Us section of our website to find your local Technician.   We are holding a back clinic at Aldington Equine Vets near Great Harwood on the 27th of February and an appointment can be made by contacting the practice.

Here’s what David Aldington BVSc MRCVS of Aldington Equine Vets says on diagnosing equine back problems:

Just like in people, back problems in horses are very common and many horses suffer from low grade discomfort which may not be really obvious but can affect their ability to perform at their best, whether in jumping, dressage or just schooling.

From a veterinary perspective, the subtle back problems can be the hardest to diagnose and treat. Qualified Physiotherapists and Osteopaths have a valuable role in identifying and treating muscle tension and discomfort, but some horses with recurrent problems can have underlying abnormalities which are harder to identify.  Back pain can also cause subtle lameness, especially in the hind limbs.  As with lameness investigation, nerve blocks, x-rays and ultrasound scans can be used to try to reach a diagnosis, but these techniques are not usually as useful or informative as they are when used on the legs.  Gamma scintigraphy (otherwise known as a bone scan) is probably the most useful procedure for identifying sites of inflammation in the back, but it is only available at larger equine hospitals and is relatively expensive.

Another method used to identify sites of inflammation or injury in the back is thermography scanning. This technique became popular in the nineties but the scans were often interpreted by untrained technicians and results were frequently disappointing.  In recent years, we have become more skilled at interpreting the scan pictures and the quality of images obtained has also improved.  Studies have been conducted to compare the interpreted results of thermography images with the actual cause of lameness or back problem once a definitive veterinary diagnosis was reached.  The studies showed a good correlation and also proved a useful training aid for interpretation of the scan images for different conditions.  This has proven that properly interpreted thermography can be a very useful technique for helping to localise the site of problems, especially in the case of back injury.

If your horse has not been performing at his best recently or if he has an intermittent or low grade lameness, thermography is a simple, non-invasive technique which can help us make a diagnosis. Although the procedure does not give us a definite diagnosis in most cases, it may highlight specific areas which we can then go on to investigate further.  If the scan comes back clear, other possible causes can be looked in to (such as gastric ulcers or dental problems).

We are holding a thermography back clinic on 27th February at our surgery near Great Harwood.  Scans will be conducted by Georgina O’Connor from Sync Thermology and interpreted results will be made available to us a few days later so one of our vets can discuss the findings with you. Scans take approximately 30 minutes. We have an appointment system on the day so please call if you would like to book a place or if you have any questions.  If you are unable to bring your horse to us on the day or you would like to arrange a scan at your yard, please call our office and we will make arrangements.