Shake It Off: Study Points To Musculoskeletal Pain As A Top Cause Of Headshaking

by | 03.31.2019 | 12:02pm

Headshaking in horses can be a frustrating diagnosis for owners; many times it isn't clear if the headshaking is related to allergies, sunlight, pain or something else entirely. A recent study from Britain focuses on the importance of ensuring musculoskeletal pain resolution for potential treatment of headshaking.

Researchers from the Animal Health Trust, Drs. Katy Thompson, Cheryl Chan and Sue Dyson, found that headshaking resolved in five of six study horses one their underlying discomfort was resolved, reports HorseTalk.

Case records and video footage of six headshaking horses were analyzed. The researchers then completed a comprehensive physical exam of the horses, both at rest and while exercised, multiple times. Diagnostic images were also completed. All of the horses tossed their heads while being ridden and two horses tossed their heads while being lunged.

Dr. Dyson determined all six horses had musculoskeletal pain and most horses had more than one source of pain. When poor saddle fit was addressed and lameness blocked with analgesia, a dramatic resolution in head tossing occurred in five of the horses.

The sixth horse stopped head tossing on the lunge, but still threw his head when ridden. It is believed that this horse's headshaking is related to trigeminal nerve pain. None of the horses displayed the more-classic signs of headshaking like rubbing their faces, sneezing or snorting.

The researchers emphasize that veterinarians should separate the difference between true head-shaking and head-shaking seen during riding that is related to musculoskeletal pain. The researchers note that headshaking is difficult to diagnose, so care must be taken to rule out other potential causes; it is possible that some horses may be diagnosed as headshakers when they are tossing their heads because of orthopedic pain. Head-tossing behaviors seen only when the horse is ridden is mots likely cause by musculoskeletal pain.

The abstract can be read here.

Read more at HorseTalk.

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