Functional Electrical Stimulation, taking the world by storm. Physical therapy for humans is nothing new. In the equine industry, the world of therapy has advanced since the 1940’s. Linda McGonagle, a physical therapist and a veterinary technician, stated in an article “The field has been around since the 1940s. It's been developing in the U.K. for 30 to 40 years; in the U.S., physical therapists have been working in the animal field for more than twenty years” (Bryant). Physical therapy for animals has become a combination of human physical therapy and veterinary techniques. The goal of physical therapy is to renew function that has been lost in the body. With the advancement of technology in today’s medical field, a new form of therapy is using electrical stimulants. One of the most common forms is Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES).
“Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) has been used extensively over several decades as an effective means to reduce or reverse muscle atrophy and to obtain some functional recovery by rehabilitation strategies for spinal cord injury patients,1-5 including those paraplegics with permanent and complete denervation of the legs (complete Conus and Cauda Equina Syndrome).6-23 The benefits of this technology are being expanded into other areas, and FES has been recently utilized for injury rehabilitation and performance enhancement in horses.24-27” [Ravara].
FES targets deep muscle and tissue to cause strong contractions meant for reducing pain. In a study done by Sheila Schils, she found that FES is proven to be beneficial and safe in the long –term. The Equine treated during the study showed signs of improvement from the treatments and remaining calm during the treatments. It's like a spa day! Vets will often recommend FES to patients who had muscle atrophy, muscle inflammation, scar tissue, and weak muscle or tendons. “The goal is to produce a smooth contraction and relaxation of both superficial and deep muscle groups that mimic a ‘real’ muscle contraction and relaxation cycle (hence producing “functional” movement), which helps damaged sensory nerve and muscle fibers heal, returning the muscle to a healthy state” (Oke).
FES has become more popular in the sport horse industry. With the amount of pressure the equines endure while training and competing they work down their tendons and muscles faster. After an injury, equines can experience muscle tightness and atrophy because when a horse is injured the natural electrical stimulation is disrupted. The three most common types of injuries in performance horses are in the suspensory ligament, the stifle, and sacroiliac damages. During performance or training an equine can create microtears (small rips) on the suspensory ligament which can lead to poor blood flow, inflammation, and strain. The stifle joint is made up of multiple structures where the injuries result from direct trauma. Most dressage and jumping equines will suffer sacroiliac damage in their lower back, causing signs of being “stiffed backed”. There are multiple theories that can help reduce the pain and inflammation. FES has become more popular because it is portable. This means that injuries can be treated at the competition and is comfortable for the equine during a stressful situation. “Many of the injuries encountered in athletic horses are the result of repetitive strain/overuse or speed” (Guelph). Racehorses are prone to ligament injures due to the amount of speed and force their ligaments endure with running at high speeds. It is important to keep updated on these injuries before they get to the point of having to put the equine down. In a study conducted by Cecilia Lönnell, Lars Roepstorff, Elin Hernlund, Caroline Schöön and Agneta Egenvall in the book: “Performance Diagnosis and Purchase Examination of Elite Sport Horses”; they found that injuries are often varied between rider and training conditions. The more the equine is pushed to work the higher the risk of injuries. FES is designed to promote blood flow and simulate the cells within the injury to regenerate the tissue. With time and treatment, the equines can return to training.
FES uses a microprocessor-controlled device to generate electrical impulses to the surface electrodes. These electrodes are placed on pads that sends electrical waves and then is placed on the area where the injury is. The electrodes come in a gel form making it easy to apply. Simulation of the electrodes are measured in volts to produce muscle contractions. The intensity is increased or decreased due to the severity on the injury. After the electrodes are placed on the equine and the microprocessor places the FES will begin to send electrical waves until the machine reads that there is a functional muscle reaction. When the FES machine is set for a higher intensity it is targeting the deeper muscles. With the signals being closer to the natural charges of the body it allows the treatment to be comfortable for the equine. By using the stimulation on different trigger points, it helps repair the sensory and motor responses of the equine. FES has assorted styles, in which can be applied to the equine. One way is by using a giant pad that covers most the lower back targeting those muscles. There is also a smaller pad that can be wrapped around the leg targeting the ligaments. FES is unique in the way it can be combined with acupuncture needles for electroacupuncture therapy. The treatment is one of the few that is modified specifically to each individual equine muscle. The practitioner needs to understand how the electrotherapy works to understand when it is and is not working and when the equine is uncomfortable.
Because FES is still a new part to equine therapy it isn’t a common treatment yet. There have been multiple case studies done with the FES treatment. The majority of them have resulted in recovery within a short time period. As stated earlier, FES targets inflammation, pain, muscle spasms, as well as other symptoms. By sending electrical waves deep to the muscles and tissues so increase stimulation leading to repair. FES is one that while being treated the equine can relax, eat, and drink as long as they don’t move too much while being treated. With performance equines under a lot of stress and training they are more prone to injury. Because of this their injuries have to be monitored and treated with therapy. FES can help the regrowth of the damaged tissues allowing the equine to return to training or to choose a new career path. FES is part of a wide variety of therapeutic treatment and this was one that is becoming well known in the equine industry.
Sorry this was a long post. This was research that I did for a class and I'd thought I should share it because it has been a topic of discussion. I hope you enjoy it!
• Schils, Shelia. Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) in Equine Rehabilitation: Initial Observations (n.d.): n. pag. Web.
• Oke, Stacey. "Equine Functional Electronic Stimulation (FES)." TheHorse.com. N.p., n.d. Web.
• Ravara, Barbara et al. “Functional Electrical Stimulation as a Safe and Effective Treatment for Equine Epaxial Muscle Spasms: Clinical Evaluations and Histochemical Morphometry of Mitochondria in Muscle Biopsies.” European Journal of Translational Myology 25.2 (2015): 4910. PMC. Web.
• Bryant, Jennifer O. "Equine Physical Therapy." TheHorse.com. N.p., n.d. Web.
• Lindner, Arno. “Performance Diagnosis and Purchase Examination of Elite Sport Horses.” Web.
• Guelph, Equine. "Developing the Sport Horse: Common Injuries." TheHorse.com. N.p., n.d. Web.