The science bit!
Muscles & Joints
When muscles become tight and lose their ability to contract and relax fully, the range of motion of the joints is affected and becomes restricted. When a joint is restricted for a long time, permanent damage can occur. Muscle tension develops naturally over time (think of tight shoulder, lumbar or hamstring muscles in us), so although it can be tempting to think that because a horse isn’t a 5 Star event horse, he does not need treating, that is not generally the case. Trust me when I say I am no athlete but I need regular treatment to keep my body in fully functioning order!
We also need to remember that when our horses learn a new skill or movement, this requires the development of new states of balance, coordination and strength. This further challenges the musculoskeletal system and can lead to tension in the muscles. If we then add a horse’s natural asymmetry into the mix, with the horse finding it easier to work correctly on one rein rather than the other, we can then see tension building unevenly in the body with torque being placed on the skeleton, further limiting the horse’s flexibility.
A further consideration is that unnatural tension in the muscles places unnatural levels of tension on the tendons that connect muscle to bone. As we all know, tendon injury is one of the most common career-limiting soft-tissue injuries.
When a muscle experiences an injury, a memory is created in the body. Not only does the brain remember what happened, but so does the muscle.
Muscles “learn” certain actions and movements ie after multiple repetitions of an action, the muscle “remembers” what it is supposed to do in order to repeat the movement at any time without much thought. If this did not happen then muscles would need to relearn movements each and every day. Muscle memory is linked to the brain through the nervous system.
Muscle memory is also created when an injury occurs. With a reaction known as muscle guarding, the associated muscles will contract automatically whenever the body comes close to performing the same action that caused the injury. This also means that compensatory muscle groups continue to overwork even
once the injury is healed. The compensation becomes a habit and an incorrect way of going has been established. This is where soft tissue therapy combined with stretch and proprioceptive therapy is so important.