Therapeutic Lasers For Elite Level Equine Competitors

When it comes to treating horses, laser therapy can help with wounds, inflammation and more.


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The United States equine competition season for three-day eventing reached its apex at Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in Lexington, Ky. It is one of the pivotal international competitions which help determine who is to be selected for the Olympic teams competing in London this summer.

The pressure on every athlete, human and horse, to stay healthy, focused and yet relaxed and comfortable is enormously challenging. The eventing season is an endurance trial that requires either avoiding or recovering from fatigue and injuries. Managing these conditions in both the human and equine athlete plays a big role in determining who advances and who goes home.

Virginia is home to many of the top three-day eventing competitors, who mostly travel and compete in Florida and the Carolinas for the winter, then return North for the summer and fall events.

As equine sports medicine veterinarians to elite competitors, my wife, Stephanie Davis, DVM, and I travel with our clients not just as their veterinarians, but also as participants. Dr. Stephanie is also an avid eventer at the preliminary level.

We seek every advantage with technology to keep our sport horses at peak performance. Many of our equine athletes compete at FEI competitions, which limit the typical options we have to maintain our sport horses. Before the World Equestrian Games, we identified a need for additional therapies that were approved for use at FEI competitions.

Laser therapy has become one of the technologies that help us achieve desired results. Injuries, either acute or chronic, are inevitable and we search for options to get horses rehabbed as efficiently as possible. We feel strongly that laser therapy is a reliable component to our common rehabilitation and treatment therapies. We use the Super Pulsed Laser by Multi Radiance Medical of Solon, Ohio.

These lasers have been used in equine medicine for a few decades. The very high peak power (in the tens of thousands of milliwatts) is delivered in a manner that differs greatly from Class IV continuous wave/mechanically pulsed lasers. There is a very large burst of energy (up to 25,000 mW) in 100-200 billionths of seconds that works similar to a camera flash. This prevents dangerous thermal effects from being transferred to the tissue, ensuring safety to both our prized patients and our staff.

A new addition to our favorite modalities for the past year has been Multi Radiance’s Super Pulsed Laser Therapy systems for wounds, inflammation, and especially acute and chronic pain relief. It’s one more tool we use, along with icing, shockwave therapy and therapeutic ultrasound, to optimize results in equine sport-associated muscle, ligament, bone and tendon injuries.

Our practice is constantly on the road. We are called upon all hours of the day and night to deliver results, and these lasers have what we need. They have plenty of power, we see the results for relieving tension and providing pain relief quickly and they’re highly portable with long battery life. They are so portable they fit in our pockets.

Another advantage is their safety. We can hold the emitter in one spot, even pressing it down firmly to enhance results in soft tissue areas for deeper penetration, unlike Class IV lasers we’ve used in the past. We can do this without concern for thermal damage seen with some lasers. Trigger-point therapy for pain relief is accomplished quickly with the threaded photo probes, which attach to the emitter and direct the light energy right where it’s needed for fast results.

No longer do we need to use dry-needle acupuncture therapy for common trigger points. This is incredibly helpful in those equine athletes that resent the common acupuncture needles, which can at times lead to more tension and anxiety, not only for our patient but the horse owner as well. Another unique feature is the inclusion of 470 nm Blue radiance which we have found very effective against bacterial infections.

Low-level laser therapy is a veterinary treatment that uses low-level lasers or light-emitting diodes to alter cellular function. Photons from the laser stimulate the mitochondrion to increase the production of adenosine triphosphate, resulting in an increase in reactive oxygen species, which influence redox signaling, affecting intracellular homeostasis or the proliferation of cells, resulting in faster healing, a reduction in pain and improvement in function.

Thoracolumbar, gluteal and other muscle painConditions we’re routinely encountering good results with include:

  • Dorsal thoracic and lumbar trigger point inflammation
  • Acute inflammation/pain associated with abrasions and lacerations
  • Enhancing wound healing times regardless of location
  • Joint inflammation, acute and chronic (e.g. fetlock joint synovitis)
  • Tendinitis and desmitis (e.g. proximal suspensory ligament desmitis)
  • Poll and cervical vertebrae osteoarthritis

And the conditions continue to present themselves daily.

Laser therapy is just one more tool we utilize to help make horses more comfortable and rehabilitate them from injuries more rapidly. The horse that feels better competes better and in our practice, it’s all about helping clients and their horses stay at the elite levels they’ve worked so hard to attain.

Drs. Chad and Stephanie Davis are equine sports medicine associates at Clarke Equine, a busy practice in the heart of Virginia horse country. They travel extensively to care for their clients’ top-level eventing, dressage and show-jumping equine athletes.

This Education Series article was underwritten by Multi Radiance Medical Inc. of Solon, Ohio.

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