I'm not seeing a roach back.
This is a helpful.article by King Equine Osteopathy
🔷Kyphosis (Roach Backs) in Horses
Roach backs are caused by excessive flexion of the lumbar spine and sometimes the thoracic spine. They can be congenital (genetic) or functional (caused by musculoskeletal dysfunction).
Historically, there is little we can do for congenital roach backs but there is a huge amount we can do for functional roach backs.
Scoliosis (lateral spinal curvature) in humans is a good example of a condition that can be congenital, pathological or functional. Both the congenital and pathological types are irreversible and, depending on the severity, can be managed by manual therapy or may require medical/surgical intervention.
Functional scoliosis occurs when we do something (such as carrying a heavy bag everyday on just one shoulder) so repetitively that our bodies start adopting that posture. We get ‘functional changes’ where our body’s posture changes due to the demands we place upon it. In functional scoliosis we develop a lateral curve to the spine but this is held mainly by muscular and fascial tension. It’s reversible. We can use osteopathic treatment, postural re-education and eliminating/minimising the causative activity or musculoskeletal issue to return the body to normal function.
🔵 Functional Kyphosis (Roach backs)
In horses, and ourselves, the lumbar spine is a vulnerable region. The thoracic spine is supported by the ribcage and sternum and the sacrum is supported by the pelvis. The lumbar spine is the connection between these two regions. There are 6 lumbar vertebrae in the horse and a robust network of muscular, tendinous, ligamentous and fascial support.
If there is dysfunction within the lumbar spine itself or in front/behind it, the lumbar spine will typically adopt the position where it is the strongest. This is in flexion ➡ kyphosis ➡ roach back.
A horse who is compensating for a musculoskeletal problem by flexing through their lumbar spine will find activities like collected work and jumping difficult. Not only are they compensating for discomfort or injury elsewhere, but a permanently flexed lumbar spine also means that they will lack power.
The lumbar spine, in walk and canter, should function like a spring. It compresses and lengthens when it’s functioning biomechanically correctly. If there is an issue within the lumbar spine itself (such as lumbosacral joint restriction) or an issue that causes the lumbar spine to protect itself by remaining in flexion, the spring action of the lumbar spine decreases or stops completely. This decreases the horses ability to balance and collect. Normal spinal movement almost stops as it reaches the lumbar spine and the horse often feels like two different horses - reasonably free moving in front and disengaged and tense or choppy behind.
A consequence of this dysfunction of the lumbar spine is the appearance of the ‘roached spine’. The lumbar vertebrae are held in flexion (which appears as a small roach back) as the strained muscles and fascia restrict normal movement. The horse is unable to properly utilize its hind legs due to the tension and weakening of the musculature in this area. The lumbosacral joint is usually the first to undergo this flexion, followed by the lumbar and thoracic segments, respectively.
As discussed above, a roached back may be congenital but more often is a functional adaptation of the lumbar spine by the horse to cope with a number of factors including poor saddle fit, injury from slips/trips/falls, incorrect hoofcare, compensating for pain in another area of the body, compromised core muscle strength or inappropriate riding or training. If the lumbar spine does not flex when ridden, the hindquarters cannot engage. If this is the case then the muscles of this area become strained and inflexible thus leading to stiffness and a roached spine appearance.
💢This is not to be confused with a horse who has a underdeveloped or atrophied topline - in horses where this is the case, the spinous processes of the lumbar spine will appear more prominent and there is often dip between the lumbosacral junction and the sacroiliac joints. This makes the spine look roached, but it’s not.
🔵 Treatment and Prevention of Fucntional Roach Backs
As osteopaths, we need to be able to find the primary source of dysfunction is. The primary cause of pain/discomfort can be local (within the lumbar spine itself) or located elsewhere in the musculoskeletal system. If the cause of dysfunction is coming from another region of the body, we need to treat these areas in order improve the function of the lumbar spine ➡ this reduces/eliminates the roached appearance of the lumbar spine by improving musculoskeletal function and biomechanics.
Osteopaths treat this dysfunction using a combination of spinal and peripheral joint manipulation, soft tissue massage, myofascial release, trigger point release, cranial and visceral techniques.
Treating lumbar dysfunction also involves looking at other aspects of the horses overall health. Are the hooves well balanced? How is the gut health? Reproductive health? Dental health? What is their workload like? Are they trained correctly? Is there any degenerative joint disease? All of these things and more are important to identify and correct in order to prevent a musculoskeletal problem from coming back.
Routine check ups from your osteopath (or other qualified body worker) are a great way to prevent these issues occurring. We can find and treat any issues your horse may be experiencing before they start causing compensatory mechanisms and dysfunction elsewhere.
When you may have a horse that is presenting with chronic lumbar tension, that does not respond well to musculoskeletal bodywork, this is when you need to refer to a veterinarian or other specialist for further investigation. Otherwise the lumbar tension will keep coming back. This can be because of viscero-somatic dysfunction (a problem within the viscera that presents as musculoskeletal pain), pathology, incorrect hoof balance, and some of the other issues mentioned above. Conditions that lie outside the osteopathic scope of practice. We need to be able to recognise where further investigation is required and refer to the appropriate equine professional.
Prevention of lumbar dysfunction also includes a correctly structured training and strengthening program (especially for the core muscles which play a huge role in stabilising the lumbar spine) that includes pole and grid work. The stronger and more biomechanically correct your horse is, the less likely it is to get into dysfunctional patterns in the first place (apart from when the mechanism of injury is traumatic - crash/fall ect).
As mentioned above, I cannot stress how important correct hoof care is, not only for the health of the hooves but for the whole musculoskeletal system. The hooves influence the horses posture and biomechanics and nothing we do as osteopaths/bodyworkers will ever work as a long term solution if the hooves are not correct.
Only use qualified professionals in every aspect of your horses care.
*Some of the below examples were sourced from google images