Equine Red Light Therapy Vs. Equine Massage Therapy

a horse enjoying sacral equine Red light therapy

To keep the optimum performance and health of a horse, post-workout management and complementary therapies are becoming prerequisites for horse owners and caretakers. Various non-invasive techniques like Acupressure, Massage Therapy, Red Light Therapy (Photopuncture) and Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) Therapy are popular. These techniques are non-invasive, pain-free, and safe.

Light therapy got popular in equine care due to its ease of use and effectiveness against various health conditions. It has been used as a complementary therapy in dogs and horses, from wound healing to pain relief. To know how redlight therapy works and how it can help your horse, let's look into this impressive technique.

horse with red light therapy poll cap on next to practitioner

What is red light therapy?

Specific rays of light are used on affected body parts for therapeutic purposes. Red color has a lower frequency and larger wavelength in the light spectrum and is best for use in light therapy. Near-infrared light also has beneficial wavelengths and used for therapy. Light panels or pads with specific wavelengths expose a horse to red light. A therapy session can range from a few minutes to one hour, and numerous sessions are planned for complete recovery.

red light devices helping a horse wound to heal by helping cells in the body

But how does red light therapy work?

The working principle of light therapy is quite interesting. Living bodies respond to radiations depending on their wavelength and frequency. Some radiations are bad for the living body, like ultraviolet rays, while others are beneficial, like a red light.

Several photoreceptors are present on a living cell, which sense red light, and a series of reactions start. The energy provided by the light therapy improves the blood supply and speed up cellular metabolism. More oxygen and nutrient supply help the cells remove cellular waste and tissue healing. In this way, red light therapy stimulates the regeneration and recovery of micro and macro injuries.

Red light therapy can

o Stimulate collagen production for tissue regeneration

o Stimulate release of endorphins for pain relief

o Stimulate production of serotonin to reduce inflammation

o Increase blood flow enabling more nutrients and oxygen to reach tissues

o Stimulate new capillary formation for quicker heal times

o Provide the energy cells need to work at their optimum performance

Red light therapy Vs equine massage therapy

Massage therapy is another non-invasive technique used to relieve pain and improve circulation in a horse body. Massage therapists use a variety of strokes, percussions and stretching techniques on different body parts of a horse. Some therapists massage manually while others use massage guns during therapy. It increases blood circulation in muscles and surrounding tissues and helps a horse in muscle repairing, pain relief and better performance.

horse receiving equine massage therapy

Most commonly used massage techniques are:

o Basic Massage

o Myofascial Release

o Trigger Point Therapy

o Manual Lymphatic Drainage

o Stretching

Massage therapy benefits a horse in various ways like,

  • It improves blood circulation and efficiently removes lactic acid and other wastes from fatigued muscles.

  • Massage therapy releases stress, reduces blood pressure and heart rate of a horse.

  • Research reveals a positive correlation between massage therapy and stride length of performance horses.

However, massage can't heal tissue injuries and painful body parts like red light therapy.

In a research study, experts provided evidence that when light therapy is complemented along with other therapies, it increases treatment efficacy.

Penetration of light to the cellular level also makes light therapy more effective for pain relief and healing tissue injuries. Along with that, light tends to penetrate deep tissues evenly and helps in speedy recovery.

When your horse needs red light therapy session?

Horses may appear tough and resilient, but they are also surprisingly fragile and need to be keenly observed for their physical health. Especially, performance horses and working horses are prone to skeletal injuries, muscle tears and chronic conditions. Red light therapy is used for human ailments like neck pain, arthritis, bursitis, muscle trauma, and surgical incisions. Several controlled trials have proved the efficacy of red light therapy in both humans and animals.

In horses, light therapy is used for many ailments.

mare horse stretched out enjoying red light therapy for back pain

Back Pain and Joint Pain

Performance horses, especially; endurance horses, have to bear a lot of strain on their back during high jumps and walking on uneven rocky trails. Slight tendon tears or micro-muscle injuries can cause chronic musculoskeletal pain if not recovered timely. Most of these injuries remain unnoticed and hard to diagnose. Suppose your horse shows reduced performance, behavioral changes and discomfort to grooming and compression on the back. In that case, your horse may be suffering from back pain.

A study published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science proved the effectiveness of red light therapy against back pain. Sixty-one quarter horses were treated, and light treatment proved beneficial against back pain and trunk stiffness. The study also concluded that chiropractic treatment proves more effective when complemented with light therapy.

equine wound progression in healing after injury using red light therapy
Top left is day 10 after injury, top right is day 17, bottom left is day 42, bottom right is day 63.

Wound Healing

Horses experience open wounds during work or training. And it is challenging to heal an open wound in a horse due to prospective infections. Proper rest and wound care are necessary to prevent any complications. To complement the effects of veterinary care, red light therapy can play a role in the speedy healing of wounds.

The photo to the right is of a horse who sustained a deep laceration to the leg. The horse received daily red light therapy sessions and some PEMF sessions all approved by a veterinarian for complementary care.

A research study in 2012 provides explicit evidence for the effectiveness of red light therapy to heal open wounds. Eight horses were given incisions of the same size on the metacarpal region of the leg. An experimental group was treated using red light therapy. After eighty days, histopathological examination of the wounded area revealed that horses treated with red light healed completely while others were not.

horse athlete jumping may get soft tissue injuries

Soft Tissue Injuries

Workout and strenuous activities leave the horse with muscles, tendons, and associated connective tissue micro-injuries. This can also be the simple sore muscle after exercise. The light therapy can reduce the delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and prepare the horses tissues for the next workout.

Tendons, ligaments and other soft tissue injuries are a bit tricky to provide relief. And most of the time, when they remain undiagnosed for some time, the condition aggravates.

Adding non-invasive techniques like red light therapy in post-workout management can recover these soft-tissue injuries at their initial stage to avoid unfavorable situations.