My 7 year old Thoroughbred eventer was recently diagnosed with “kissing spines” in the area under the saddle. What causes kissing spines? How common is it? Does it affect certain breeds or horses that are doing certain disciplines more than others? What can I do to prevent it from getting worse? Are there any supplements I can feed my horse to make him feel better? What is the prognosis for his long-term performance and comfort? ES, Pennsylvania
You’ve asked a lot of questions! Let me tackle them one at a time so you have a clear understanding of this condition and your options.
What causes “kissing spines?”
Known as “kissing spines” by horsemen and “overriding dorsal spinous processes” by veterinarians, in clearest terms the condition is spinal processes that touch or “kiss” one another at rest or in motion. The withers are an excellent example of these spinal processes, long thin bones that protrude upward from each vertebrae.
Although some cases are due to a fall or other injury, many times the conformation of the vertebrae themselves (narrow interspinal spaces) are to blame for the impingement. Spinal processes that rub together are not only painful to the horse, they create additional lesions such as bony remodeling and ligament inflammation.
How common is it? Does it affect certain breeds or horses that are doing certain disciplines more than other?
According to Jean-Marie Denoix, DVM, PhD, an expert in equine biomechanics, “kissing spines” occurs most often in young thoroughbreds or thoroughbred-crosses with short backs used primarily for jumping. Show jumpers appear to be the most commonly affected, although eventers and hunters suffer from this condition as well. Your horse falls into this category.
While some horses with “kissing spines” show clear signs of back pain, many don’t, and diagnosis can be a challenge. Other signs pointing to this condition include back stiffness, reduced jumping ability, resistance to work, change of temperament, resentment of grooming or picking up the hind feet. Horses with “kissing spines” may also be reluctant to lie down or roll.
What can I do to prevent it from getting worse?
Once an impingement is diagnosed, rest is prescribed along with medical treatment and physical therapy. Medical treatment may include local injection of steroids into the interspinal spaces, NSAIDs such as phenylbutazone, and mesotherapy, a pain-dampening technique that stimulates the mesoderm, the middle layer of the skin. Options for physical therapy range from magnets and massage to acupuncture and chiropractic to swimming and shockwave therapy.
Exercise is gradually reintroduced through handwalking, lunging, then riding, being careful to avoid any activity that seems to be painful to the horse while building and strengthening the muscles and ligaments of the back.
Are there any supplements I can feed my horse to make him feel better?
Because “kissing spines” is a condition with pain and inflammation that involves bones, ligaments and muscles, the supplement categories that may be helpful include anti-inflammatory, joint, tendon & ligament, and muscle mass. Specifically look for ingredients that help fight inflammation in tissue such as MSM, omega 3 fatty acids, and herbs like Devil’s Claw, Boswellia, Bromelain and Yucca. Actives like Glucosamine, Chondroitin sulfate and Hyaluronic Acid; Silica and Collagen; and the amino acids Lysine and Methionine may be beneficial to healing tissues.
What is the prognosis for his long-term performance and comfort?
Although many horses do well with a combination of rest, medical management and physical therapy, the clinical signs often return. This may mean decreasing the horse’s level of performance to avoid jarring the spinal processes together or, in severe cases, performing surgery to remove one or more of the processes.