Kissing spines, also known as “overriding dorsal spinous processes” or simply “dorsal spinous process impingement,” is a condition that can affect a horse’s back. 

The equine spine is made of a series of vertebrae, each with spinous processes (the bony projections along the top of the vertebrae), that normally have a clear space between them. When these processes become too close, or “kiss”, often in the thoracic or lumbar regions of the back, it can cause discomfort and pain when the horse moves.

While there is some research suggesting a genetic predisposition to kissing spines, it is often the result of management, which is good news because this is treatable! 

Kissing spines can be caused by a variety of husbandry factors, including poor saddle fit, training while moving in a “hollow” fashion, excessive strain or trauma to the back, and age-related changes. 

Horses with kissing spines may exhibit symptoms such as:

  • Back pain
  • Resistance to being saddled or ridden
  • Reluctance to engage the hindquarters
  • Stiffness 
  • Shortened stride
  • Behavioral changes, such as bucking, rearing, or refusing jumps 
  • Working ‘hollow’, with the back and neck in extension
  • General poor performance

If you suspect that your horse is dealing with kissing spines, you should consult your veterinarian as soon as possible. A veterinarian can diagnose kissing spines through a combination of physical examination, palpation of the horse’s back, and diagnostic imaging, such as X-rays or ultrasound. 

Treatment options for kissing spines depend on the severity of the condition. Conservative treatments may include rest, anti-inflammatory medications, and different forms of physical therapy. In more severe cases, surgical interventions such as a dorsal spinous process ostectomy or interspinous ligament desmotomy, may be necessary to create space between the affected spinous processes. 

A Sample Rehabilitation Plan for a Horse With Kissing Spines

After treatment, a structured rehabilitation program is advised to gradually reintroduce the horse to work, and ensure its core  muscles are strengthened and conditioned properly. This typically involves controlled exercise, with use of specialized equipment.

Below is a sample rehabilitation plan for a horse with kissing spines, along with some tips:

*Note: Always consult with a veterinarian and licensed equine physiotherapist before starting any rehabilitation plan for a horse with kissing spines. They can provide a tailored plan based on your individual horse.

→Highly Recommended: Our Evidence-Based Rehabilitation for Equine Kissing Spines online course will walk you through this process!← 

Phase 1: Rest and Pain Management 

  • Consultation: Work closely with your veterinarian to confirm the diagnosis and discuss the best course of action.
  • Pain Management: Administer prescribed pain medications to alleviate discomfort. Other therapies may include electro-acupuncture, PEMF, and shockwave treatment.
  • Rest: Provide complete rest in a well-bedded stall or small paddock with limited movement to allow initial healing and pain reduction.
  • Ground-Based Exercises for Core Muscle Activation: Work with your veterinarian and licensed therapist to design an appropriate exercise plan for your horse.

Phase 2: Controlled Hand Walking  

  • Gradual Introduction: Slowly introduce controlled hand walking sessions (10-15 minutes initially) on flat, even surfaces.
  • Monitoring: Observe the horse for any signs of discomfort or pain during and after walks. Adjust the duration and intensity as needed.
  • Additional Therapies: Consider complementary therapies like soft-tissue mobilization/massage, osteopathy, acupuncture or chiropractic care, as recommended by your veterinarian.

Phase 3: In-Hand Exercises  

  • Gradual Progression: Begin incorporating in-hand exercises such as ground poles or cones to encourage controlled, straight-line movement.
  • Core Strengthening: Focus on exercises that help strengthen the horse’s core muscles, which support the back. This is where the abdominal band in the Equiband Pro system shines!
  • Regular Veterinary Check-ups: Schedule regular check-ups to monitor the horse’s progress and adjust the rehabilitation plan accordingly.

Phase 4: Introduction of Ridden Work  

  • Proper Saddle Fit: Ensure the saddle fits properly and does not exacerbate the condition. Consult with a professional saddle fitter!
  • Light Riding: Start with short, 10-15 minute rides at a walk, emphasizing relaxation and straightness.
  • Gradual Progression: Slowly increase ride duration and intensity, incorporating trot work as the horse becomes more comfortable.

Phase 5: Ongoing Conditioning and Maintenance  

  • Regular Vet Checks: Continue to schedule regular check-ups to monitor the horse’s progress and adjust the plan as needed.
  • Gradual Conditioning: Gradually increase the horse’s workload and intensity as it becomes stronger and more comfortable.
  • Cross-Training: Consider incorporating other activities like lunging, hill work, or low-level dressage to maintain overall fitness and prevent boredom.

Remember that every horse is unique, and the duration and specifics of the rehabilitation plan may vary. Your veterinarian and physiotherapist will provide guidance on adjustments based on your horse’s individual progress and needs.

Core Strengthening is Crucial

The core musculature plays a significant role in supporting and stabilizing the horse’s spine and back musculature. In horses with kissing spines, core strengthening is beneficial for several reasons:

  • Improved Posture: Core muscles help maintain proper spinal alignment and posture. Strengthening these muscles encourage the horse to hold its back in a more neutral position, reducing the likelihood of spinous process impingement in the first place, or a relapse in the future.
  • Enhanced Stability: A strong core helps stabilize the horse’s vertebral column during movement. Dynamic stability reduces excessive movement between vertebrae, which can exacerbate kissing spines.
  • Pain Reduction: Strengthening the core muscles alleviates excessive stress on the back, reducing pain and discomfort associated with kissing spines.
  • Optimal Weight Distribution: Strong core muscles enable the horse to distribute its weight more evenly over its back, minimizing pressure on specific areas and reducing the risk of further spinal issues.
  • Improved Range of Motion: Core strength contributes to improved flexibility and range of motion in the horse’s spine, making it easier for the horse to move  without compressing the affected vertebrae.
  • Enhanced Proprioception: Core strength is linked with  proprioception, which is the horse’s awareness of its body in space. This heightened awareness can help the horse move more efficiently and reduce the risk of stumbling or tripping.
  • Prevention: Core strengthening exercises can also be used as a preventative measure for horses at risk of developing kissing spines. Building and maintaining a strong core can help minimize the chances of the condition developing in horses of any age and discipline.

Core Strengthening Exercises for Horses with Kissing Spines

When incorporating core strengthening exercises into a rehabilitation plan for a horse with kissing spines, it’s essential to start gradually and progress slowly. 

Some effective exercises include:

  • Belly lifts: Encourage the horse to lift its abdomen while standing or walking.
  • Hill work: Gradually introduce hill work to engage the core muscles and improve balance. The Equiband Pro system can be used during hill work for extra benefit.
  • Lateral flexion exercises: Encourage the horse to bend laterally while standing or walking.
  • Carrot or baited activations: Gently guide the horse’s neck in various directions and hold for 2-3 seconds,  to activate core muscles.
  • In-hand work: Groundwork exercises, such as lunging with the Equiband Pro, engage the core in movement.
  • Pole work: Incorporate ground poles into exercises to encourage controlled movement and engagement of the core muscles. Using the Equiband Pro while doing poles is a plus!

In Summary

Kissing spines is not a life sentence! By consulting your veterinarian and equine physiotherapist, and putting in the time to rehab your horse, you can help strengthen your horse’s core and alleviate any pain or discomfort. 

The Equiband Pro system is here to help. Get yours today!