Reasons for performing study: Massage is widely used in physiotherapy, but there has been little previous research examining its effectiveness in increasing equine soft tissue length.
Objectives: To determine the effect of massage on equine hindlimb protraction. We hypothesised that massage to the caudal muscles of the equine hindlimb, specifically the superficial gluteal, semitendinosus, biceps femoris and semimembranosus muscles, can increase passive and active hindlimb protraction.
Materials and methods: The study used a crossover design in which 8 horses were randomly assigned to 2 groups of 4, A and B. Group A received massage for 30 min, group B received sham treatment for 30 min. The procedure was repeated following a 7 day ‘washout’ period, when group A received the 30 min sham treatment and group B, 30 min of massage. Passive hindlimb protraction was measured before and after each intervention, using a modified version of the human ‘Sit and Reach test’ for general muscle flexibility. Active protraction was measured using 2 dimensional kinematic analysis of stride length. The data analysis used the Wilcoxon signed rank test at a significance of P<0.05.
Results: Massage to the caudal limb muscles significantly increased passive (P = 0.01) and active limb (P = 0.01) protraction.
Conclusions: This study indicates that massage can increase protraction of the equine hindlimb. Massage may, therefore, play a valuable role in the development of strategies used to improve a horse's locomotor function, e.g. during rehabilitation or optimum performance for competition.