What is Prehabilitation?

Definition

A systematic approach to identifying common injuries specific to the animal being treated, and then designing an appropriate series of exercises that work towards minimising their potential for occurrence. Essentially, it is like being one step ahead to prevent injury; prevention is better than cure!

Aims of Prehabilitation

  • Improve joint range of motion
    • Increased joint range of motion and flight arc is more desirable for preventing the incidence of injury. This is important for the activation of different muscles which improves the conditioning and performance of the horse. Additionally, joint ROM is essential for joint health through the production of synovial fluid.
  • Improve elasticity or flexibility ie. trunk mobility
    • Improvements to suppleness and flexibility through joint range of motion and muscle quality is essential for healthy biomechanics. Flexibility ensures movement is supple and not rigid through the extensibility and looseness of muscles and fascia. Rigid locomotion – which often occurs when the spinal column is placed into extension (hollow frame) – can mean that movement almost looks robotic and jarring. Parts of the musculoskeletal system should look and feel like they’re having a content chat with a cup of tea during movement, not like they are all arguing with one another.
  • Improve muscle strength, endurance and symmetry
    • Strong and symmetrical muscles that are able to correctly function for an extended period of time are able to support the body in a healthy posture successfully. This reduces the risk of injury as the body is evenly supported; atrophied and/or asymmetrical muscles cause areas of weakness in the body that are susceptible to injury.
    • This also draws a link to improving fitness as a way to prehabilitate. A fatigued muscle is more likely to become injured.
  • Improve coordination and proprioception
    • Weak proprioceptive abilities can mean an animal is more likely to trip or loose their footing for example, as they lack awareness of their body. Improving proprioception stimulates the neurological system to be conscious of the movements made by the body for more accurate and controlled movement.
  • Correct pre-existing problems
    • Whilst a poorly fitting saddle may not be making a horse acutely lame, or a incorrectly fitting collar may not cause immediate laryngeal problems… overtime the negative effects of such issues can amount to a larger dysfunction. Poor surface, nutrition, equipment fit and training are all examples of elements that can come together to create an injury later on in life. By correcting these at the beginning, the risk of a lameness occurring from one of these factors is minimised.

Examples of Different Exercises for Different Focuses

Strength and Conditioning Focus

  • Hill work
  • Transitions
  • Interval training techniques

Proprioceptive Focus

  • Pole work
  • Hill work
  • Exercise on varying surfaces
  • Stimulation bands
  • Kinesiology taping

Suppleness and Extensibility Focus

  • Hydrotherapy
  • Stretches – passive, active, active assisted
  • Dynamic mobilisation exercises
  • Joint range of motion exercises
  • Complementary therapies ie. INDIBA Radiofrequency

If you would be interested in developing a prehabilitation plan for your horse, dog or cat, please feel free to drop me a message to discuss!

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