Reasons for performing study: Earlier studies have developed a clinical tool to evaluate objectively the function of the equine back. The ability to differentiate horses with back pain from asymptomatic, fully functioning horses using kinematic measures from this tool has not been evaluated.
Objectives: To compare the kinematics of the back at walk and trot in riding horses with back dysfunction to the same parameters in asymptomatic sport horses.
Methods: The kinematics of the back in 12 horses with impaired performance and back pain were studied at walk and trot on a treadmill. Data were captured for 10 secs at 240 Hz. Range of movement (ROM) and intravertebral pattern symmetry of movement for flexion and extension (FE), lateral bending (LB) and axial rotation (AR) were derived from angular motion pattern data and the results compared to an earlier established database on asymptomatic riding horses.
Results: At walk, horses with back dysfunction had a ROM smaller for dorsoventral FE in the caudal thoracic region (T13 = 7.50°, T17 = 7.71°; P<0.05), greater for LB at T13 (8.13°; P<0.001) and smaller for AR of the pelvis (10.97°; P<0.05) compared to asymptomatic horses (FE-T13 = 8.28°, FE-T17 = 8.49°, LB-T13 = 6.34°, AR-pelvis = 12.77°). At trot, dysfunctional horses had a smaller (P<0.05) ROM for FE at the thoracic lumbar junction (T17 = 2.46°, L1 = 2.60°) compared to asymptomatic horses (FE-T17 = 3.07°, FE-L1 = 3.12°).
Conclusions: The objective measurement technique can detect differences between back kinematics in riding horses with signs of back dysfunction and asymptomatic horses. The clinical manifestation of back pain results in diminished flexion/extension movement at or near the thoracic lumbar junction. However, before applying the method more extensively in practice it is necessary to evaluate it further, including measurements of patients whose diagnoses can be confirmed and long-term follow-ups of back patients after treatment.
Potential relevance: Since the objective measurement technique can detect small movement differences in back kinematics, it should help to clinically describe and, importantly, objectively detect horses with back pain and dysfunction.