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Tight Nuchal ligament - painful poll / high head carriage

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  • Tight Nuchal ligament - painful poll / high head carriage

    Anyone have a condition resulting in the high head (ewe neck posture) that is a result of a really tight Nuchal Ligament?
    I am doing everything I can and researching all over the world with the best of the best, but still not getting it resolved. Unsure of how injury occured but horse has split mane and muscle spasms mid neck and at poll. It is very painful and he bites at me or himself while doing bodywork until he has had at least 2 releases, then I can get him softened and work it, but need more input from someone who may have had a great professional to work with. He was an ungentled Mustang when I got him last summer and noticed this right away. (maybe he got roped or caught up during capture) Or it could be from birth. He'll be 3 soon. He is getting to the point where I could take him in for a scan or something now, but need direction on what may be helpful.
    Vet offered to Xray, but where? I think the poll is just irritated and the mid neck may be actual area of avulsion, or NL tear, or it could be the withers, or further back. When I do "tail pull" chiro style, he has "kinks". so I am very gentle with that.
    The NL flips around and I can feel it mostly behind the right side poll area.
    Please tell me your experiences and what helped. (this condition is most commonly related to pull backs when tied).
    Thank you!

  • #2
    Many horses' NL will flip side to side. Are you doing the body work and if so, are you trained? Just trying to get a feel for the quality (book knowledge, hands-on experience) of work being done. How often is he worked on?

    Does he graze? What's his normal stance like?

    What makes you feel this is an injury, and specifically to the NL?

    The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET


    • #3
      He could have a cervical fracture or arthritic changes impinging on the spinal chord, kissing spine or other conditions that create discomfort and the tight ligament and when you are trying to adjust or massage, you are aggravating it instead of helping. You can't see these things without imaging like x Rays

      Have you had any x rays or other diagnostics by your vet? Whatever is wrong, you should start by having medical diagnostics. If he was roped and/ or sent through chutes and put in stocks, there's many opportunities for serious neck and back injury. Anything from a fracture to tearing the ligament itself. Horses are stoic and he could be in considerable discomfort.

      Also. What do you mean by split mane as a symptom? You mean half on one side,half on the other? Many horses have that and no neck or back trouble including half a dozen Ive owned over the years.
      When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

      The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


      • #4
        My gelding has had an injury in his neck from a burly cowboy trying to force him to load by pulling on the head/neck with

        horse pulling back. What finally helped after a period of healing was my vet who is also a trained equine chiropracter

        adjusted him a couple times. Both times she said it was very obvious the problem was mid neck and as soon as she

        adjusted him, he was much, much better. I'd suggest finding the best skilled equine chiro you can locate even if you have

        haul horse to them.
        "There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their ability to feel pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery." - Charles Darwin


        • Original Poster

          Hi JB and Findeight, great questions. Yes, I have been trained in Myofascial release, and massage. I"m in my 50s and have been educating myself for others and my horses and also do saddle fitting. I research, study and have a massive library. The problem with diagnostics is even the vets are not sure how to best proceed, so I am trying to choose best option. Xrays were suggested but I am hesitant due to the extent and amount needed versus just hauling him somewhere for a complete workup. I took this from an article by Sue Dyson: Scintigraphic examination findings may be negative. Ultrasonographic examination is not easy, and interpretation is difficult. Mineralization within the ligament may cause shadowing artifacts. CT offers the most sensitive means of detecting lesions in either the nuchal ligaments or the border of insertion of semispinalis.24 Diagnosis depends on a positive response to infiltration of local anesthetic solution. Fifteen milliliters of mepivacaine are infiltrated on the left and right sides, and the response is assessed after 15 to 30 minutes."

          Yes, his mane is split and he has pain mostly in this area, so I do think it is significant and may also be the area where the funicular and lamellar NL changes.
          This could get very costly, actually beyond what I can afford quickly so I want to find any case histories or experiences and choose the best diagnostic approach.


          • Original Poster

            In addition, he has the (what I have come to understand) typical posture and all the symptoms of a tight NL. It's pretty obvious. He is very head high. and you can just see it if you have a good eye. He is basically ok until you touch or work on his crest area or poll. He is not thriving as he could be. He had strangles when he came and a cough that is slowly getting better, so that and a horrid winter set us back so I want to jump on this and get it resolved.


            • Original Poster

              Don't know how to reply to a specific post, guess I have not been here in a while. Marla, he has had several chiro sessions. Also several bodyworkers suggest NOT doing chiro at this point. I tend to agree as he is too tight for it to be effective. I will let the vet choose but will ask about acupuncture first.


              • #8
                If you don't want to pay for x Rays because they might be inconclusive and it's not much more to get a full workup? Why not get the full work up? Not sure fear they may not reveal the problem is a reason for not getting them anyway. It would be a starting place.

                Have had excellent results from a Chiro who was also a DVM and a human chiro who turned to equines working closely with a vet, in both cases, they did X-rays and other imaging to identify exactly what they were dealing with before trying to manipulate anything for fear of causing more harm.

                Mustangs lead a pretty tough life in rough country and the capture and shipping process is pretty rough. They get pretty banged up and exposed to far more serious injury potential then other horses. Treatment is often slow or non existent so a good vet work up might save you grief down the road as well as considerable time trying to figure out the source. Typically you'll spend more money chasing what might be wrong over time then you will just getting a work up in the first place. Especially if it's a fracture someplace.
                When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

                The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


                • #9
                  Do some diagnostics. Personally I'd start with x rays, or ultrasound, whichever my vet was best at, because I'd have to haul 5 hours for a full body scan and my very good vet can do both of the other in my barn aisle with clear imaging. Some vets are better than others at this and you may have to ask around to find your local magician.

                  But I wouldn't let a chiropractor anywhere near that neck before I knew what was going on in there.

                  Neck stuff is so tricky. It may be that if he's got some spinal impingement or arthritis in there, if you can get the inflamation and pain under control, he will let go in that ligament and things will settle down over time, so it's worth pursuing in my experience.


                  • #10
                    I like the Masterson Method. It addresses releasing pain and tension, etc. In a very gentle method. Not sure if it would help your horse but it is so gentle that I feel, if done properly, could do no harm. They stress letting the horse find release and it is all done with very light touch. The website shows many if the releases plus you can purchase their very informative books and DVD's. Their dedication to helping horses really shows.

                    Improving performance, communication and relationship with your horse. The Masterson Method is an integrated, multi-modality method of equine massage. It is a unique, interactive method of equine massage in which you learn to recognize and use the responses of the horse to your touch to find and release accumulated tension in key junctions of the body


                    • Original Poster

                      Thanks all, yes the plan is the DVM that does Chiro is coming next. I will ask her to palpate and decide what to do that day (Chiro or Acupuncture) and what she feels may be a good way to proceed diagnostically. Hate waiting, but in the meantime he gets bodywork as often as I can, usually 3-4 days a week. I use primarily Masterson method type, but lots of other release and structural alignment type work. It takes a long time but I have found a good handful of things he seems to benefit from. Just still hoping to find someone who has gone through the process of figuring it all out. CT scan seems most promising. Also curious if anyone has done injections.


                      • #12
                        Injections in the neck are a frequent go to and often offer great relief to the horse. BUT, they are not risk free and should only be considered after diagnostics identify what the problem is and where to inject when the spine is involved.
                        When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

                        The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


                        • #13
                          My newest OTTB came to me with all 4 hooves in horrible shape. He was incredibly body sore due to his sore hooves. One of his most sensitive spots was his poll. You couldn't touch it. Once his hooves started to get better, the poll was no longer painful.

                          It may be that he has an injury to his neck, but it might be worth it and relatively cheap to hoof test him to see if he has any pain there. If they have pain in both front hooves they may not appear to be lame.


                          • #14
                            A neurological exam would be tops of my list, then if anything was even slightly questionable, the next step would be an appointment with a neurologist.

                            At any rate, diagnosis is step 1.

                            I hope you find a clear answer and that there is a solution to his discomfort!
                            Ahhhh, spring is here. The birds are singing, the trees are budding and the paddocks are making their annual transformation from cake mix to cookie dough.


                            • #15
                              Two ideas: I really like the Posture Prep groomer. It is a myofacial release tool - you use it against the grain of the muscle. Dr. Bona has some videos on youtube, including one about the nuchal ligament. My horse likes it and I think benefits from it. and go to the other page of tutorials.
                              Also, have you considered PEMF treatment? Might really help to release the tension. I knw my neighbor, who is retraining a driving horse into a riding horse and battling the "dropped back/high head" posture, saw some amazing results after one treatment. (Note that the effects lasted about a week. It needs to be repeated.)


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by lorilu View Post
                                Two ideas: I really like the Posture Prep groomer. It is a myofacial release tool - you use it against the grain of the muscle. Dr. Bona has some videos on youtube, including one about the nuchal ligament. My horse likes it and I think benefits from it. and go to the other page of tutorials.
                                I have used Posture Prep also. I think it really helped my horse. I am lucky that Dr. Pat has also treated him 3 times and was able to show me how to use it. But the tutorials are very helpful.

                                Oh, well, clearly you're not thoroughly indoctrinated to COTH yet, because finger pointing and drawing conclusions are the cornerstones of this great online community. (Tidy Rabbit)


                                • #17
                                  Re the Posture Prep groomer - how is that different from the Grooma Groomer (is that even around anymore?) I have 2 of those. Is one of the values of the PP groomer that is is more rectangular and therefore flexible to start to wrap around joints and muscles?
                                  The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by JB View Post
                                    Re the Posture Prep groomer - how is that different from the Grooma Groomer (is that even around anymore?) I have 2 of those. Is one of the values of the PP groomer that is is more rectangular and therefore flexible to start to wrap around joints and muscles?
                                    The teeth aren't pointed, and they aren't all the same diameter and length. The straighter edge helps get into places like the groove between shoulder and neck. You can bend it a little but not much. If I dug into Bravo with that Groomer like I do with the PP, I am sure he'd want to kick me.


                                    • #19
                                      The teeth around the edges are pointed, but I see now the ones in the middle have a flat tip. Looking more closely at the pictures now I can see how those straight smaller sides can do more work around joints. I'm sure pressure comfort is all relative - 2 of mine lean into me with the Grooma LOL But the mare? Lighter touch for sure.
                                      The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET


                                      • #20
                                        A lot of the benefit of Posture Prep is the technique. I remember being taught as a kid to never curry legs with a hard rubber curry. You curried in circles starting at the front. With Posture Prep you do a lot of cross fibre grooming, you groom the legs with it to release the fibers in the legs. At least for my horse she had me start with prepping the hips and moving forward. You probably could use the Grooma Groomer with the Posture Prep technique. I prefer how the Posture Prep fits in my hand compared to the Grooma Groomer. I think the PP gets into some areas better than the GG.
                                        Oh, well, clearly you're not thoroughly indoctrinated to COTH yet, because finger pointing and drawing conclusions are the cornerstones of this great online community. (Tidy Rabbit)