I recently graduated from Parker University’s Animal Chiropractic Program in Dallas, TX. It involves 5 months and 212 hours of learning about animal joints, behaviors, nutrition, anatomy, normal gaits, lameness, dentistry, pain, and more.
I know the benefits of chiropractic adjustments are not evident to many people. I would like to share what I have learned throughout the last several months.
A mainstay of the chiropractic theory is the idea that the body has an ideal state of balance. The big science word for that is homeostasis. It literally means that the body balances itself when everything is functioning properly.
Normally functioning body systems have the ability to heal themselves. Think about when you get a bruise. You don’t do anything special to heal the bruise – you body knows how to do that without being told. The big, science name for that is “innate intelligence”.
I am going to share some skeletal pictures with you from this book, published by Novartis:
Now, the brain and spinal cord are the body’s main control system. Think of the brain as command central and the spinal cord as a super highway. Between each spinal segment, nerves run out to every part of the body, much like exits off the interstate. These “roads” split and branch until they reach the tiny little driveways to the intestines, the liver, the muscles, the kidneys, and every other part of the body.
Every animal has a spinal column unique to that animal. Dogs and cats have 7 cervical (neck) vertebrae, 13 thoracic vertebrae (which attach to ribs), 7 lumbar (lower back) vertebrae, 3 sacral (between hips), and then a variable number of coccygeal (tail) vertebrae.
Horses have 7 cervical, 18 thoracic, 6 lumbar, 5 sacral, and 15-21 coccygeal vertebrae.
If you think about it, there are over 30 moveable joints in that spinal column. When a joint loses some of its normal range of motion, that affects the nerves running both through the spinal column as well as the nerves exiting the spinal column. It’s not a giant road block, but more of a road cone. It causes a small interference which isn’t huge, but big enough to make a slight change in normal function.
Here is a picture of a compressed spinal cord. When the disc in between the vertebrae shifts, it can protrude into the spinal cord and cause signs of paralysis. A herniated disc is truly a giant road block.
Now – If you pay close attention to the bones, you will notice the shift that has occurred. This is a large shift, but minor shifts can occur that you won’t notice.
Chiropractors are trained to find the tiny movements in the spinal column, called “subluxations”. Both veterinarians and chiropractors that have completed an animal chiropractic course are constantly looking to perform spinal “adjustments” to correct these chiropractic subluxations.
There are also physical rehabilitation stretches you can learn to give the spine some relief and allow it to heal faster.
Major subluxations need to be corrected surgically. Minor subluxations can be continually adjusted with chiropractic care. Dogs with tendencies for back problems should have routine chiropractic care, which will aid in prevention of disc abnormalities.
The hips are a place for many problems in all animals. The sacral vertebrae join the ilium of the pelvis at the sacroiliac joint. This area takes a lot of abuse when animals jump, climb, chase balls, catch frisbees, play fly ball, and more. Keeping this joint healthy and fully functional is imperative to a pain free pet. Hips, stifles, hocks, and even toes can benefit from chiropractic adjustments.
The next photo is showing a herniated disc at the lumbo-sacral junction. This is a severe herniation.
I want you to notice the movement of the bones in this situation. Remember this is a severe situation, but even in a minor movement, that sacrum will be tilted up. Chiropractic care can reduce that subluxation and realign that lumbo-sacral joint, hopefully helping to prevent a worsening condition.
The following photo is of a horse skull. Horses have a very large head with a lot of teeth. Movement in the TMJ (temporomandibular) joint is important for horses, especially when you realize they are made to chew almost every waking moment.
TMJ joints can subluxate laterally (to the side). I recently saw a horse with difficulty turning to the right. She had a right lateral TMJ and a right hock problem. The hock was her primary problem, but remember that we ask horses to bend from their noses to their tails.
We also ask horses to flex and bend at the poll. The major motion joint for these minuscule movements is the atlanto-occipital joint. This is the joint between the skull and the first vertebrae.
This joint has several directions of movement. If we want full performance from our horses, we need to be sure they are pain free and have a full range of motion in every single joint in their bodies.
I hope this helps you understand the basics of chiropractic care. It’s not a replacement for routine, traditional veterinary care. It is, however, a wonderful tool to add to your preventative care regime.
It is also a great addition to current treatments. Restoring full mobility and range of motion can help with arthritis, anal gland problems, luxating patellas, chronic pain, neurologic issues, and much more.
Be sure your veterinarian is involved closely with your chiropractic care provider to ensure a complete care plan.