Science & Equine

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Water depth in treadmill exercise modifies back kinematics

Water treadmill exercise can be incorporated into the rehabilitation programmes of horses recovering from back pathology. Walking in high water causes more cranial thoracic extension and thoracolumbar flexion when compared with walking in water at hoof depth.

Water treadmill exercise is being used in training and rehabilitation of sport horses. The water treadmill and exercise protocols vary according to the individual experiences of the therapists and clinicians. Water provides an upward thrust on the horse's body and limbs. This results in a relatively long stride duration, increased swing duration, reduced stance duration and greater flexion-extension ranges of motion of distal limb joints compared with walking in water at hoof height at the same speed. As water treadmill exercise alters the pattern of movement of the limbs, an alteration in back kinematics could also be expected as limb and back movement are linked.

The aim of this study was to measure the flexion/extension ROM of 5 regions of the thoracolumbar spine and the pelvic vertical displacement during walking on a water treadmill at 4 water depths; hoof (control), metatarsophalangeal, tarsal and femoropatellar joints. For this study 14 horses of mixed breeds and disciplines were used.

This study found that walking in high water increases the F/E ROM of the thoracolumbar spine when compared to walking in water at hoof level. There is a postural change towards mid-thoracic extension and thoracolumbar flexion. If the therapeutic goal is to promote thoracic flexion, walking in high water should be avoided. Further work is needed to determine the long-term effects on spinal kinematics and associated spinal musculature.  

> From: Nankervis et al., Equine veterinary Journal 48 (2017) 732-736(Epub ahead of print). All rights reserved to John Wiley & Sons, Inc. . Click here for the online summary.

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