Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Assessing Pain in Your Equine Athlete

A crucial element to being a good trainer or rider is the ability to detect pain in the horse. Keeping a performance horse sound can be one of the greatest challenges of competing; therefore, being able to recognize problems before they become actual injuries is a skill you can't afford to be without if you are looking to stay at the top of your game. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- There are many ways to evaluate a horse for pain. There are the obvious signs of behavioral issues and performance issues that we have all heard a thousand times and hopefully are able to easily recognize. Then there are the not so obvious signs. For example, palpating a horse for soreness. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- One of the most common ways I see the lay person (and even some professionals) attempting to assess pain is to take their finger nail or other sharp object, with varying force, and dig into certain areas of the horse's body. They will hit a point that they have learned means "hocks" or "stifles" etc. and then, because the horse flinches, they will declare the horse to have an issue in said area. While you can certainly create an alarming reaction this way, it actually tells you very little about the issues at hand. If I took my finger and jabbed you in the back, I bet you a buck, I could also make you jump! ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- These points I am referring to are acupressure points. And they are, without a doubt, a very effective way of assessing and addressing dysfunctions in the body. Horses have 12 meridians: The Lung, The Large Intestine, The Spleen, The Stomach, The Heart, The Small Intestine, The Kidney, The Bladder, The Pericardium, The Triple Heater, The Liver, and The Gall Bladder meridian. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The most common points I see folks "jabbing" are the hock and stifle points located in the bladder meridian located between the biceps femoris and the semitendinosis area. But are these the only hock and stifle points in the body? The answer would be a big fat NO! There are many others. So how, might I ask, does getting a "knee jerk" reaction on one stifle point indicate that the cause of the horse's performance problems are its stifles? As you may have suspected, it typically doesn't... ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Further, the aforementioned pressure points can also indicate sacropelvic issues and sublaxation, back stiffness, enteritis - inflammation of the small intestine, and cystitis - urinary bladder inflammation. The hock point in this area can indicate not only hock pain but hind-limb arthritis, enteritis, nephritis - inflammation of the nephrons in the kidneys, and cystitis. And that's not even taking into consideration the location of the points, the bladder meridian. As an energy system the bladder is intimately related to the functions and balance of the autonomous nervous system. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ With that said, we can now see things are a little bit more complicated than they may have appeared. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- When acupressure is utilized correctly, points are assessed with the finger tips - searching for temperature changes of the points, indentations, protrusions, and pulses. As well as doing a thorough examination of all related points and meridians in question to determine the best course of action. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The average lay person cannot be expected to know how to locate and evaluate the multitude of acu-points that are located on the horse's body. However, there are several things they can do to help determine where the issues may lie. To start with, knowing what is that horse's "normal" is - is a valuable tool. On a regular basis you should take the palm of your hand and run it over the horses body - paying attention to how the tissue feels under your hand. Is it warm? Is it cold? Are you running over "ridges" in the muscles? Are the muscles taut like a drum or are the tissues smooth and palatable under your hand? With your finger tips and medium pressure, check the neck, back, croup, legs, and hamstring muscle groups for abnormal sensitivity. Range of motion of the joints can also be determined when performing a regular stretching regime after workouts. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- To get optimal results from any training program and to ensure valuable time and money is not lost to preventable injuries takes a team of skilled professionals (including bodywork!) to keep the horse performing at the top of its game.....and to stay there for years to come.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

So you think massage is a luxury......

As a massage therapist or bodyworker as I prefer to be called (massage insinuates one modality whereas bodywork is compromised of multiple modalities which means the therapist has extensive training), I am often shocked at how many people still think it's a luxury. It is not a luxury. It's a necessity. Particularly if you plan on using your body or your horse's or you dog's body for anything other than laying around. The more you are going to demand from the body, the better you need to take care of it. Let me explain...

Professional athletes get massages like they eat meals. They treat it like fuel for their body because it is! Case in point from Bill Romanowski's book..."German athletes are more meticulous in their training. Their philosophy is to get a massage every day like Americans eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It's part of the workout, part of the recovery. It's called taking care of yourself." - Udo Magel

We must realize that the mere act of training causes soreness. Causes of post-exercise soreness vary from overuse injuries to minor strains to tears in the individual muscle fibers. When a workout is over done, you will find that the damaged muscle fibers become swollen, fatigued, and sore over the next 24 hours. Furthermore, another culprit of soreness is lactic acid. It is produced during intense levels of exercise when the oxygen demands of the muscle fibers increase beyond what the blood is capable of delivering.

Massage eliminates the lactic acid, the trauma from over use strains and tears, adhesion's and knots in the muscles, and re-balances the musculature system. Which equals faster recovery time and fewer injuries.

Point blank, corrective massage is going to hurt. It hurt to create these dysfunctions in the body, so don't expect it to be a song and dance to fix it. The more dysfunction in the body, the less pleasant it will be. However, if you do not correct it, you will experience lack of performance, slow recovery time, incorrect movement patterns, and eventually serious injury.

Simply put, muscles are the motor of the body. They must act synergistically (Definition: combined action or functioning) to produce optimum results. If they do not, the skeletal system and joints will become stressed and unable to function properly. I often see this and in attempt to fix the issues the joints are treated or the skeletal system is treated but never the muscles. That is like putting new tires on your car and wondering why it doesn't run! You are throwing money down the drain and who wants to throw money down the drain?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

How to Combat Pain; My Healing Journey

I am still shocked when I hear comments regarding massage as being frivolous or a luxury. What!?! Isn't it completely normal for every person and every working animal to receive regular treatments? Of course it's not, but it should be! It doesn't matter if you are trying to recover from trauma or simply trying to prevent it.

As someone who has suffered serious trauma, I can attest that I would not be where I am and have defeated many recovery odds, if it were not for all of the therapy I have done. Since my accident over a year ago, I have gotten worked on every week. Whether it be chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, applied physiology or physical therapy. Each modality played a vital role in how I have healed and continue to heal. Most people have physical therapy after injuries but the work must continue long after those appointments have ended if you wish to continue the healing process. It's a small price to pay for getting your life back!

Throughout my recovery, I chose to use different modalities depending on where I was at in my healing. I feel this is crucial.

As a therapist, I often find that there is a misunderstanding that massage is massage. Not true. There are many different types and each type has a time and place to obtain optimum results. Here are descriptions and guidelines of what is what and when is the right time:

MYOFASCIAL RELEASE "Myofascial Release is a safe and very effective hands-on technique that involves applying gentle sustained pressure into the Myofascial connective tissue restrictions to eliminate pain and restore motion.

Trauma, inflammatory responses, and/or surgical procedures create Myofascial restrictions that can produce tensile pressures of approximately 2,000 pounds per square inch on pain sensitive structures that do not show up in many of the standard tests (x-rays, myelograms, CAT scans, electromyography, etc.)" - John F Barnes

Myofascial Release was the first modality I used. Fascia is a seamless web of connective tissue that covers and connects the muscles, organs, and skeletal structures in our body. When trauma occurs, the body's natural response is to freeze up to protect itself. It's completely subconscious. I learned, I am a master of this! Which is probably good and bad. I'm still "frozen" in spots in order to protect my injuries. When there is a restriction in the fascia web, it affects the whole system. It's like a snag in a pair of nylons. Myofascial Release works to "unwind" these restrictions and return your body to full capacity and full range of motion.

APPLIED PHYSIOLOGY I still use this modality nearly daily and in my work constantly. It is a muscle monitoring technique, applied physiology allows the body to express what is out of balance and provides information to restore that balance. Muscles are put through a normal range of motion, monitored to determine where the stresses lie. The centerpiece of the technique is using acupoints to ask “questions” about specific physiological and anatomical stresses. The goal of treatment is to let go of the stress within the body by integrating the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual components of an individual.

DEEP TISSUE One thing deep tissue massage is not is a fluff and buff!! It is aslo not relaxation massage. Go to a spa for that. Furthermore, it is a separate category of massage therapy, which I call corrective bodywork. It is designed to relieve severe tension in the muscle and the connective tissue or fascia. It is applied to both the superficial and deep layers of muscles and fascia. The sessions are often quite intense as a result of the deliberate, focused work and it can and will be uncomfortable at times.

OSTEOPATHY Osteopathy is a form of drug-free non-invasive manual medicine that focuses on total body health by treating and strengthening the musculoskeletal framework, which includes the joints, muscles and spine. Its aim is to positively affect the body's nervous, circulatory and lymphatic systems.

Now enough of me for a second, let's talk about our animals. When should we use the different modalities?

When should I schedule a corrective bodywork session?
Typically a week before the competition and a week after will give you optimum results. However, if it is your first session, schedule out a month for your first session. Every body responds differently.

What modality should I use for post competition? Is it ok to have work performed at the event? Absolutely yes it is! However, a pre or post comp. massage is very different from that of a "corrective session" i.e. deep tissue techniques. Pre and post comp work should feel very light compared to your regular sessions. They are geared towards flushing lactic acid, restorative range of motion exercises, and redirecting blood flow, as well as relaxing the mind and body. All very important. I will offer a word of caution though, if you are not on a regular regime of bodywork, don't first attempt it at a competition. Refer to above recommendations.

What modalities are best for prevention?
The answer is all are beneficial for prevention! Before my accident, I also received bodywork on a regular basis. I believe that is one of the biggest reasons my body was able to "take" the injuries it did. A soft, elastic muscle is going to bounce back so much more quickly and be so much STRONGER than one that is contracted and hardened in an already protective state of dysfunction.

An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure! Keep healing!

Heidi Pichotta

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Don't Let The Perfect Be The Enemy Of Good

As competitors of any nature, it's quite easy to become caught up in perfection. We can get so caught up in it that we lose the purpose of WHY we compete in the first place! It doesn't matter if we are a pro or a novice, we compete because we love it. And if we don't love it, it won't work. Simple as that.

When adding an animal to the mix, they also truly have to love their job to excel. If they don't have the drive, the will, the love of the game, then they just don't see the point in working for us and it shows in their performance. It equals pure frustration for both human and animal. As a handler or rider, I feel it is OUR job to work WITH the animals desires and needs rather than against them. To instill confidence and trust so that their maximum potential can be reached.

So often you hear from a competitor, "Well...I didn't do this right, or that right, or (insert animal's name here) wasn't listening to me today or cheated me or was being a pill." Whatever happened to going out there and having fun for the love of the game and being grateful for every positive, regardless of how big or small? Do we really think that our animals plot and scheme to make our lives miserable in the show ring? Doesn't that just sound ridiculous? But how often do you hear something of that nature? Whatever happened to accepting what you have that day? Or looking for a reason for the performance problem and doing the homework to fix it? Humans have off days, animals have off days. An off day is not the end of the world. And a bad day doing something we love is surely not the end of the world. In fact, it's a pretty darn good day!

It's not only ourselves that push perfection but we let our mentors and fellow competitors words affect us in a negative way. We take their criticisms (sometimes well intentioned and sometimes not) to heart and in turn, the wheels of self doubt are set in motion. But really what does that accomplishment? Absolutely nothing! I can promise that once you truly let go of all that negative garbage, things will get better, you will have more fun, and you and your animal will perform better.

This quote from top agility competitor, Daisy Peel, struck a chord deep within me.

"..running a Novice dog is a ton of fun, but to prove to people that you don’t have to step in to the ring perfect, or perfectly prepared. To the contrary, there are things I believe that the dogs will only learn in the ring, and so I see no reason to wait til they’re running Master’s level courses to enter them in a trial, provided that I can provide a positive experience that will further growth between my dog and myself as a team."

This, in my mind, is the mindset of a true champion.


Welcome to my blog. I'm going to try to keep this updated regularly...since I have so much to say. :-) Look for topics on horses, saddle fitting, massage, equine massage and body-work, dogs, dog agility with a some chit chat and commentary on the latest fashions thrown in for good measure.

Don’t be pushed by your problems. Be led by your dreams.