Muscle pain is present in over 90% of the population of working horses. As you probably know, the areas on horses that can be painful include neck, back, hindquarters, shoulders, actually anywhere there is a muscle!
Underlying causes often include poor saddle fit, weak abdominal muscles, hypertonic back muscles, lameness and spinal problems. Treatment of muscle pain can be extremely challenging and typically involves a multi-modality approach to resolve. The common goal in the treatment of affected horses aims to alleviate discomfort, muscles spasms and stiffness associated with the pain.
With the proliferation of many non-invasive, drug-free therapies emerging in the equine market, invariably, the question of "What's the difference?" arises from horse owners.
The various treatment options out there for horse owners to help alleviate their horses' muscle soreness is mind boggling!! This blog post was written in an effort to educate horse owners (and me!) on the different types of treatment out there for treating equine muscle soreness and pain.
So let's dive into that! First a note- the following comparisons are not meant to be exhaustive or arrive at any medical or scientific conclusion, but to simply offer the primary differences among each device, their respective applications, their modalities, and their prices. (I've included links if you want to learn more or buy one!)
I'm going to start with the most basic (and least expensive) and work my way up to the most comprehensive.
Equine Light Therapy
What is it? Since the early '80s, light therapy (sometimes called red light therapy, Phototherapy, LED therapy, DPL, Infrared therapy, Photon Therapy, or Red/Infrared Therapy) has been used in the horse world for treating equine concerns and helping owners and trainers keep their horses in top shape.
LED light therapy is really a way to help the body heal itself. It uses specific wavelengths of light that are absorbed by a photo acceptor within the mitochondria of the cell. The energy (photons) from the lights increases the energy within the cell and that speeds up the healing process.
The lights must be specific wavelengths and must be delivered at a specific dosage. Using both red and near-infrared lights is beneficial because the wavelengths are absorbed by different depths of tissue. The combination of the two work in concert to provide the most benefits.
Visible red light (660nm) is absorbed by skin layers very efficiently and is best for uses such as stimulating trigger and acupuncture points and for treating wounds and infections. Near-infrared light (850nm) penetrates to a deeper level and is used to treat concerns of tendons, ligaments, bones, joints, and muscle.
Is it safe? It is repeatedly reported that when the cell is "reenergized" it accepts no more energy, so you cannot cause harm and it is reported to have no effect on healthy tissue. In other words, the body will not absorb what it cannot use.
As horse owners we do what they can to keep our animals happy and healthy and most of us also know the benefits of a good massage!
How do they work? Massages provide a soothing way to increases blood flow to an area to rejuvenate sore, tired, or tense muscles. Hiring a professional can get costly so many horse owners (me included!) use hand held massagers. I've tried a few but I really like the EQUISPORTS Massager. ($205)
It's super easy to use and you are able to apply soothing massage therapy to your horse and help reduce pain, muscle tension, and stiffness by adjusting massage intensity from a soft, gentle speed to a deep, invigorating speed. It's quiet and shaped with a horse in mind.
By using a hand held massager you can treat your horse to the luxury of a full body massage without the recurring cost of a massage therapist. I use it on myself and my husband too!
Magnetic therapy for horses can accelerate recovery time in soft tissues like muscles as it reduces muscle tension and soreness and offers prevention and relief of joint pain.
How does it work? Through the naturally occurring Iron in a horse's blood, these magnets work by pulling the blood to those targeted areas, serving as a stimulant for therapy as well as a diagnostic tool.
Magnetic therapy can be used on a wide range of areas on your horse, with choices from magnetic horse sheets, magnetic slicker hoods, magnetic horse wraps, boots, magnetic hock boots, leg quilts, and magnetic halter crown pieces from brands like Benefab® and Dura-Tech®.
I like the Benefab because it combines far-infrared infused mesh and 84 medical-grade magnets that are sewn atop key acupuncture points for a targeted therapy to the back, shoulders, and hip areas. It is fairly affordable at $314 (that's only a few therapy treatments from a pro!) I also use the Benefab Magnetic Quick Wraps which use the same technology. You can get front or hind and use them as standing or shipping boots. ($175)
The last product I use by Benefab is the magnetic poll pad. My horse is an off the track Thoroughbred and he carries quite a bit of tension in his poll. I do some body /energy work with him for this, but he loves it when I use this magnetic poll pad. I start with it on his halter when I'm grooming him but add it to his bridle when I ride. At only $39 it's a great buy!
The next two systems use Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields (PEMF) which covers low energy cells in raw, pure energy. Each cell in an animal’s body is actually just like a battery that holds a charge. Their body is electrical and the cells each need a measurable electrical charge to function optimally. In order to maintain wellness, cells must be doing their jobs. PEMF encourages the body to recovery naturally.
The first one I'll review is by Bemer.
How does it work? BEMER stands for Bio-Electro-Magnetic-Energy-Regulation. BEMER devices/products use a pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) to deliver a patented bio-rhythmically defined therapeutic signal. The BEMER signal helps temporarily improve local blood flow in muscles.
Applying an extremely low-frequency PEMF signal to your horse’s body facilitates electrical activity within the muscles and cells. This process enhances local circulation, boosting muscular performance and recovery.
The BEMER Horse-Set promotes healing and recovery, and supports regeneration. It enhances suppleness – a prerequisite for motivation and willingness to learn – so your horse can exercise more effectively. A BEMER horse blanket can also help your horse relax more easily both before and after exertion. You’ll notice the effects on your horse after only a few minutes of application. I have hired a Bemer professional for sessions on my horse and he loves it.
You can get just the blanket or a set. The Bemer set comes with a blanket, and cuffs. The list price starts at $5,240. You can buy a Bemer blanket for $3,000 alone or just the cuffs for $3,200, so obviously the set is the way to go.
The other system that uses PEMF is called MagnaWave.
MagnaWave also uses Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields (PEMF) to help support the animal’s overall wellness to optimize balanced functions. MagnaWave can be used to alleviate pain from injuries, laminitis, founder, in all areas of the horse.
How does it work? During the MagnaWave session the blood oxygen is increased, the lymphatic system is activated, and acupuncture points are stimulated. The idea of PEMF is to help relieve inflammation. Pain is thought to be caused by inflammation, if we can relieve the pain and swelling, the body can begin to recover naturally.
These systems are very expensive ($12K and up) so most people hire a professional that offers this service.
What is the difference between Bemer and Magnawave since they both use PEMF?
The MagnaWave is a similar concept to the Bemer but the difference is in the delivery method, power, and how they yield a deeper penetration. Traditional PEMF blankets (Bemer) deliver a low, consistent level of magnetic energy, which may not be adequate for deep injuries or the larger and denser parts of the equine anatomy. The higher power of MagnaWave provides shorter session times and quicker results. What the blankets can do in 2 to 3 weeks, the MagnaWave machines can do in 10 minutes!
Also, with a Bemer blanket, each PEMF device, is fixed to a specific area of the blanket, directly affecting the areas beneath the PEMF device. Thus, if a stifle requires treatment, a blanket may cover that area, but the attached PEMF device may not, leaving that area untreated. With MagnaWave you can apply the PEMF device to any area.
Needless to say, this blog post isn't all inclusive- there are MANY products out there offering health and healing benefits for your horse. I just wanted to focus on the ones I have personal experience with and to review these modalities with price point in mind. Hope it offered you some insight!
Good Vibes and Good Rides,