My Horse Sprained His Ankle…
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.