Methods for Rehabilitation

May 12, 2015
By Debra M. Eldredge, DVM


A lame horse is enough to chill any horseman’s heart. Luckily nowadays, horses and their owners have plenty of new options to help in the healing process. These options range from veterinary assistance–required treatments to new therapies that you can do mostly at home with some veterinary guidance.

Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Therapy

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy is a new treatment for physical injuries that involves drawing a blood sample from your horse, spinning and concentrating parts of the blood, and then injecting the platelet-rich plasma component back into the injury site. The platelets contain fairly large amounts of different growth factors that can help body tissues with poor vascularity, like tendons and ligaments, heal more quickly.

This therapy has become popular because it requires minimal veterinary visits and seems to work! Sedation is generally used, and a local nerve block may be part of your veterinarian’s protocol. Most horses receive just one injection into the injury area. While a veterinarian must have the proper equipment to process the blood, there is very little chance of immune response, since you are simply putting your horse’s own blood products back into him.

However, your horse will still need some aftercare. The injured limb will be bandaged for up to two weeks, and your horse will most likely need to be confined for two weeks. Afterwards, a carefully controlled exercise program will hopefully bring him back to full function.

Game Ready® Equine System

NASA space suit technology has been adapted to create the Game Ready® equine therapy program, which concentrates on RICE—rest, ice, compression and elevation. Game Ready® Equine products include an accelerated recovery system for horses that uses unique wraps to provide both active-compression and cold therapy. This system (which can be rented or purchased) works to help reduce healing time for soft-tissue injuries. It can also be used as part of a preventive program and is sometimes used for healing after orthopedic surgeries.

Game Ready® Equine wraps provide compression that mimics your horse’s normal muscle contractions without requiring the normal wear and tear on his joints and bones. Horses on stall rest often get fluid buildup from inactivity—think of your classic “stocked up” equine. These wraps counter that effect. The dry cold that comes with the compression helps to keep pain and swelling down.

If you believe your horse may benefit from Game Ready® Equine wraps, talk to your veterinarian about a rehabilitation schedule. Therapy may range from every couple of hours at first to once or twice a day for a couple of weeks. There are some cases where this product should not be used—mainly when horses have vascular problems, such as pulmonary edema or congestive heart failure. Always consult your veterinarian before using this system on your horse.

Stem Cell Therapy

Another fairly new therapy for helping to restore soundness in injured horses is stem cell therapy. In this treatment, fat cells are harvested from your horse and sent off for processing to concentrate mesenchymal stem cells—connective-tissue cells that have the potential to develop inside various types of tissues. When injected into an injured ligament, tendon or joint, they aid in healing, both reducing treatment time and often improving the overall outcome. Most horses need a custom-designed rehab program for 45 days after injection, so that the stem cells can become well settled and grow.

As with PRP therapy, the rejection risks are very low. You are returning cells to your horse that came from your horse, so rejection risks are virtually nonexistent. PRP therapy can be combined with stem cell therapy in some cases for an even better prognosis. Generally one injection will handle the problem; however, extra stem cells can be stored from the initial fat-cell removal and be available for future injections if needed. This also reduces the cost of a second treatment.

Recovery Time

It is important to realize that these new therapy options are not one-shot-and-go miracle cures. Your horse will still need to undergo regular rehab protocols with exercises designed to strengthen and heal their injured limbs. You should work with your veterinarian, and possibly rehab specialists, to develop a complete program to help restore your horse to full function. Despite the required recovery time, these new therapies give you more tools in your box for keeping your horse in top-notch form.

Game Ready is a registered trademark of CoolSystems, Inc.