What are Kissing Spines?
On the back each vertebrae of a horse’s spine, spinous process is a very small projection of bone which protrudes from where the laminae join. When the spinous processes are touching one another, pain occurs. Typically, in horses the condition occurs within the thoracic area of the spine, and this is where the rider places pressure when sitting upon the back. In some cases, the section behind the area of the saddle may be affected.
An evenly-spaced vertebrae is a healthy vertebrae column; kissing spines is otherwise. This condition is a well-known and common problem in many types of horses which are used for many different working activities. The way the saddle fits the horse, the horses exercise regimen, and the technique of the rider should always be monitored in order to help prevent this condition.
Often, kissing spines is not detected until the condition becomes severe. It is a major contributor to subpar performance in performing horses, as well as an abnormal gait. This condition, however, is not noticed until the horse is noticeably being negatively affected in his performing aptitude.
Kissing spines in horses is a condition that develops when the spinous processes of the vertebrae touch one another, rather than being spaced apart.
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Symptoms of Kissing Spines in Horses
There are a variety of symptoms associated with kissing spines in horses. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Symptoms may include:
- Avoidance behaviors
- Inability to bend direction
- Cross cantering
- Abnormal gait
- Difficulty maintaining a correct canter
- Pain in the back regions
- Attempting to bite as girth is being tightened
- Not willing to jump
- Irritability when being brushed
- Stiffness in the back
There are several different spinal maladies in horses that can affect the horse’s overall health and well-being. Other types of spinal conditions include:
- Cervical vertebral compressive myelopathy
- Neuroaxonal Dystrophy
- Equine Degenerative Myeloencephalopathy
- Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis
Causes of Kissing Spines in Horses
As of today, there is very little information on the cause of this condition. However, there are several researched-based theories. Causes may include:
- Breed type
- The hollowing of the back by the horse when working
- Activities which bring the spinous processes closer together
- Change within the position of the back during specific activities
- Trauma affecting the processes
Diagnosis of Kissing Spines in Horses
In diagnosing kissing spines, the one tool used in a definitive diagnosis is radiography. With digital imaging, radiographs can be taken and a much closer look at the horse’s back will give the veterinarian much information to go by. If your horse has kissing spines, the image will reveal the spinal processes touching one another rather than being evenly spaced apart.
The veterinarian may perform an ultrasound which is equally as effective as evaluating the soft tissues and surfaces of the bone. This type of imaging technique shows significant bone detail as well as the soft tissues which are attached to each bone.
Thermography may also be employed to take a look at the heat output from the region, which can signify inflammation. Thermography is ideal for looking at specific back regions as well as the fit of the saddle.
Treatment of Kissing Spines in Horses
Treatment of kissing spines will vary, depending on the horse’s condition and health history. Treatment methods may include:
The veterinarian may explain the benefits of riding modification and work that the horse is accustomed to. He may recommend therapy for your horse, and a therapist can help set specific therapeutic routines for your horse.
Other methods of treatment are specific injections to relieve the pain this condition is causing. Your veterinarian may offer corticosteroids and possibly Sarapin to help relieve your horse’s discomfort.
Shockwave therapy, in some cases, is as effective as corticosteroid injections. This type of therapy can also be used to help manage kissing spines long term. If your horse is active, or is a competition horse, shockwave therapy can be given regularly and before any competitions to decrease any pain and discomfort your horse may experience.
For acute cases of kissing spines, laser treatments can be given. Laser therapy can effectively treat any inflammation of the nerves, soft tissue, and bone at the site of the condition.
A revolutionary medication, known as Tildren, may be administered to your horse. This medication has been shown to decrease bone inflammation and the destructive process of the bone. This medication activates the cells of the bone, thus rebuilding any damage that has been caused. This may be an effective long term solution for your companion.
Recovery of Kissing Spines in Horses
The prognosis of kissing spines in horses is uncertain, as each horse is different and has varying degrees of this condition. When treated, and if the horse responds to treatment, then the prognosis is good. However, treatment typically consists of exercise programs and therapeutic regimens in order for the horse to begin to have a decrease in pain.
Kissing spines in horses is becoming more prevalent in horses, and research is being conducted as to the reasoning behind this. Better, more reliable prevention and treatment is being sought. Researchers and veterinarians alike are certain that prevention plays a major role in horses having a healthy spinal column.
Kissing Spines Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My gelding who I bought from a killbuyer tilts his head when being ridden. To the point where he looks like he could be laying it on a table. I’ve tried many good saddles, english and western, chiro, massage, specialty shoes. He had thermal imaging today, and xrays. The vet is suggesting kissing spine. Thoughts?
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I’m not sure whether my mare may have kissing spines or not, are there any checks I can do to look for it without X Rays? My physio has checked her and never mentioned anything nor found pain that he didn’t think was related to work..
She’s been out of work for 2-3 months now and her back is still sore and she’s still slightly girthy with no improvement. I was thinking maybe kissing spines and ulcers but I really hope not.
When I was riding her, she’s always taken a while to warm up and maintain a good contact, very hollow and tense mainly in canter but not cross firing or getting the wrong leads. She’s not overly spooky either.
I did have a feeling her saddle may be causing pain but physio checked it over and said it wouldn’t be causing her any pain, plus she hasn’t been ridden for 2-3 months now so I don’t think it could be related to saddle fit.
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