Horse Massage Blog

Cold Therapy in Horses

"The effects of cold therapy in horses"

Horse owners everywhere cold-hose or ice their horses' legs to help reduce inflammation, but there hasn't been much agreement among researchers on its effects, or the success of various methods of cooling. However, a recent University of California-Davis study determined that one type of cold therapy significantly reduced the temperature of superficial digital flexor tendons (SDFT) and most likely other tendons as well.

In the study,  horses with temperature probes inserted into one forelimb SDFT were treated with a commercial compression splint with circulating coolant for 60 minutes. Researchers recorded baseline temperatures before treatment and at 30-second intervals during the treatment, and found that the SDFT core temperature dropped from an average of 32.2°C to an average minimum temperature of 10°C.  Researchers found that during cooling with the compression splint, the core temperature of the SDFT decreased more rapidly and was lower than that of the skin surface within about two minutes.

So what are the effects of cold therapy?  The majr ones are listed below:

  • Local vasoconstriction. It is generally assumed that cryotherapy causes small blood vessels on the body surface to constrict. This effect may help reduce hemorrhage and edema.
  • Local vasodilation. Following initial vasoconstriction, vasodilation occurs ("Hunting reaction"). This appears to be a protective mechanism to maintain viability of body tissues at low temperatures. When tissue temperature falls below 18° C, the initial reduction in blood flow is followed by a compensatory increase in blood flow.
  • Anti-inflammatory effects. It is also assumed that cold reduces the inflammatory response after soft tissue injuries by reducing pain and post-injury edema. It is believed that cold reduces inflammation by inhibiting histamine, neutrophil activation, collagenase activity and synovial leukocytes.
  • Hypometabolism. The decrease in inflammatory response seen after the application of cold is enhanced due to decreased tissue metabolism, which limits secondary tissue damage due to hypoxia.
  • Reduced muscle spasm. Cold decreases activity of the muscle spindle, which in turn decreases muscle spasticity. Cold also makes muscle tissue stiffer and results in changes in viscosity and plasticity of the various tissues. There seems to be a direct relationship between the cooling temperature and the muscle performance.
  • Decreased nerve conduction velocity. Decreased nerve conduction velocity has been documented as a result of the application of cold. This is thought to contribute to the reported analgesic effects of cold
  • Subcutaneous swelling. It is generally thought that cold decreases swelling, however, numerous studies have shown that application of cold actually increases subcutaneous edema.
  • Increased collagen stiffness. Cyrotherapy is proposed to help preserve the elastic properties of collagen in soft tissue injuries. Cooling results in enhanced stiffness and stability in injured tissue.
  • Analgesia. Cold has been frequently shown to have an analgesic effect. Clinical and experimental research on pain and pain threshold indicates that pain reduction occurs after the tissues are cooled to 10°C to 15°C; however the duration of pain relief is uncertain.
We are very excited to announce that Equestricare has become a distributor of Ice-Vibe Boots the winner of the BETA Innovation of the year.   A boot that offers cold therapy with circulation boost such as used in this study.

posted by Jessica Blackwell | 12 Comments


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