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Shock wave therapy for horses found to ease pain, speed healing of injuries

Shock wave lithotripsy, used in humans since 1980 to break up kidney and bladder stones, has become a tool to help horses.

Shock wave therapy for horses found to ease pain, speed healing of injuries

Shock wave lithotripsy, used in humans since 1980 to break up kidney and bladder stones, has become a tool to help horses.

Bruce Connally, a veterinarian in Longmont, Colo., who specializes in equine sports medicine explains it was first used in animals in Europe in 1986 to treat tendon, ligament and bone problems.

“The first machine for horses was brought to the U.S. in 1998. Since then these machines have become more efficient and portable, and some veterinarians use them for treating lameness,” he says.

Key Points

Some benefits of shock wave therapy were discovered by accident.

The therapy increases blood flow, and speeds healing of soft tissue and bone.

The treatments can relieve pain and minimize scar tissue during healing.

Connally uses a portable machine in his mobile equine practice. “I purchased my first one in 2000. I can drive to anybody’s barn or ranch, take X-rays with a digital X-ray machine, do digital ultrasound, and shock wave treatment,” he says.

“The shock waves relieve pain and seem to stimulate healing by energizing chemical messengers in the body that facilitate the actual healing. We know it also increases blood flow to the area,” says Connally.

He uses it on horses with ringbone, sore backs, tendon injuries and navicular syndrome. “I’ve used it on older horses with bone chips in a knee. With the chip and the pain, the knee starts buckling forward, and these horses are crippled.”

Many older horses are still valuable as kids’ horses, and you want them sound and not stumbling. “I’ve used shock wave on some and turned them around to where they could keep working as a kid’s horse and be comfortable doing their job,” he says. “It also works very well on soft tissue injuries to speed healing and reduce scar tissue.”

How it works

“The machine I use has a small air compressor that sends a plunger forward, making it move very rapidly against the skin as I hold it tight against the horse. We use a gel on the skin, like for ultrasound, to help transfer the energy from that little plunger. This swift repeated movement sends an energy wave into the tissue,” says Connally.

“The best way I can explain it is to liken it to an ocean wave. The wave goes through the ocean, but the water doesn’t move until the wave and its energy hits the beach.

“When it hits the beach, it is so strong that rocks move. We can send this energy through the body without damaging anything, yet when it hits the focus area — a bone, or where a tendon attaches — it has an effect,” he says.

“It’s like a wave going through water; until it hits the interface of two different structures like bone and ligament, or muscle and bone, then deposits most of its energy. We’re still not sure how the energy stimulates release of chemical mediators that signal messages to body cells,” Connally says.

It causes blood vessels to dilate, allowing an increased blood supply, which brings in more oxygen, nutrients and all the building blocks necessary for repair. “We can use it on and around wounds to stimulate healing, without damaging the tissues. It can also help stimulate healing of small fractures,” he explains.

“The new machines are more user-friendly, and treatment is not painful. With the older machines we had to sedate the horses, but we don’t need to do that anymore.”

Smith Thomas writes from Salmon, Idaho.


PORTABLE: A shock wave machine comes in an easy-to-transport size.


SHOCK WAVES: Bruce Connally uses his portable shock wave on a patient’s sore hock.


PAINLESS TREATMENT: Bruce Connally treating a ringbone at the coronary band.


SHOCKING DISCOVERY: “When shock wave machines were first used on humans to break up kidney stones, the patients reported that their arthritis felt better,” says Bruce Connally, equine veterinarian in Longmont, Colo. “Now we use it on horses to reduce pain and speed healing.”


HITTING THE TARGET: Bruce Connally targets the navicular area to relieve heel pain in this patient.

This article published in the September, 2014 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2014.

Animal Health

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