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Toni Talks about PT Today

My Horse Sprained His Ankle…

Published March 18, 2009 9:01 AM by Toni Patt
Last week one of my horses sprained his ankle.  Even though most Arabians are graceful creatures, this one is a klutz.  Like any good physical therapist, as soon as I heard sprained ankle my first question was whether or not it had been iced. The next question was how often ice would be applied. The response to these questions was a blank stare. They looked at me like I didn't have a clue what I was talking about. To me it seemed obvious. Soft tissue injury equals ice in the first 48 hours. I thought everyone knew to put ice on an acute injury.

The problem had nothing to do with communication or the proper treatment of an ankle sprain. The problem was that I wanted to put ice on my horse.   Why wouldn't I put ice on his sprained ankle? It's a soft tissue injury. You ice acute soft tissue injuries. As far as I know, soft tissue behaves the same way no matter if it is human, rat, dog or horse. How else could researchers do animal studies and carry the science over to humans? I'm sure there have been plenty of animal studies using the various modalities found in a PT clinic. Horses can't talk, but they can communicate pain.  He would simply move his foot away if he was uncomfortable. Cost wasn't an issue. All that was needed was a hose and a water source, both of which were readily available. I could stand there and run cold water over the ankle. It just didn't make sense.

It never occurred to anyone to treat the ankle beyond a topical agent, an elastic wrap and keeping him in his stall for immobilization. This is a show horse. He is worth more than a small, used car. Until this, I thought he would receive the best care possible. Why don't animals receive some kind of physical therapy when they become injured?  When my dog blew his ACL a few years ago, the surgeon offered doggy therapy in his office using underwater treadmills. I've since seen similar tanks large enough to accommodate a horse. It's obviously possible.

Animals, pets in particular, are a large part of our lives. I've had patients who missed their dog or cat more than family. I've heard numerous stories of how a patient paid thousands of dollars to save a beloved pet. We have "caring critters" who visit hospitalized individuals. I thought the possibility of PT was a no-brainer.  I was wrong. Obviously, a vet can't bill for physical therapy. But a vet could bill for hydrotherapy. And though it almost kills me to say so, a well-trained technician could perform the actual therapy under the guidance of a vet. That avoids any issues with proper licensure. There are some veterinary schools that provide such therapy. There's one in Tennessee. Another one is in Texas.

At one time, the APTA had an animal therapy section. I believe it was included under the orthopedic section. I don't know if it still exists. I couldn't find it when I looked. I'm not advocating for PTs to start treating animals at the expense of humans. There's enough of a PT shortage as it is. I do think basic injury management such as ice, elevation when possible, etc., is appropriate.  With a little home program training, a pet owner could do it at home.  If, as in the case of Jude, aka the klutz, it takes a PT to point out the obvious then so be it. A little icing could go a long way to shortening recovery time and decreasing pain. 

Yes, I would rather spend my day treating horses than what I do now. That's not going to happen. If it did happen, it would be on a very small, localized scale. Nor is it realistic to expect animal therapy clinics are in the near future. The vet at my barn is very good. I doubt he would have had a problem with me icing Jude's leg. He just never would have thought of it. I think it's reasonable to expect basic treatment be available for simple injuries.  Whether it comes from a vet or a concerned owner isn't as important as if the treatment is appropriate and timely.

5 comments

Help please! I have a 9year old female Arabian. She sprained her ankle ? Or something during the recent winter storm. May have tripped when going into stall. Notified and checked her.. It was still a bit swollen but she seemed better... But I did see a faint red line in her hoof.  So apparently it was a good sprain.  Plz email me ASAP and instruct me on caring for her.   Should she. Be stalled?

Jerrikay Reynolds, Legal - Office adm January 26, 2014 9:18 PM
Bentonville AR

I have a five year old gelding quarterhorse.  We just had a horrible bout of snow and cold weather.  I noticed my quarter horse was limping yesterday.  She did not break it, but she did sprain it.  My thoughts are to put up her arena, as we just moved and put a bandage on it.  I will pursue those avenues this weekend.  Is there any other solution.  She is just a family pet.  The morgans are fine.  IT is my gelding quarterhorse.

Darlene, , Owner Circle K Facility January 14, 2010 6:31 PM
Carthage MO

My 5 year old quarter horse mare sprained her ankle sometime during the night and i had no idea what to do. I read in a vet book that i had to put cold compresses on it so i did that. she is stalled and the swelling is gone but she is still not putting all her weight on it. I was just curious if there was more i could do to speed up recovery.

merrie December 16, 2009 3:46 PM
kingston OH

I can't believe they didn't ice your gelding or put a hose on him  first thing. We just found out one of my Morgans had a sprain, and we got as much ice as we could off the inside of our big freezer

(needs a cleaning so there's plenty in there!) put it in a bucket and filled with water. She didn't care for it much but we'll be out there first thing in the AM to do it again.

My vet knows I took pre-vet in college for 4 years, so if he thinks I can handle doing a job he just tells me what to do. But in this case I knew already.

Hope you r gelding is better soon and I sure hope my filly is too.

Susanna May 31, 2009 1:20 AM
Eugene OR

I found this post looking for info on a horse sprained ankle.  The first thing *I* did was hose off her foot/leg for 20 mins with cool water (all I had).  I was looking for any information as to what else to do.

I don't understand, you mean no one thought you should do that?  That is just absurd!?  That was my first thought, especially after seeing swelling.

I hope your Arabian is better.  If he's anything like my Morgan (who also seems to be kind of a stumblebum), it took awhile to heal.

Thanks for posting this!

Diane May 13, 2009 10:26 AM

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