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Whirlpool Therapy: Popular Treatment For The Equine Athlete

Updated: May 8, 2023

One form of heat therapy for horses that is gaining popularity is the whirlpool treatment. By assisting normal physiological, or body processes, whirlpool therapy can prevent musculoskeletal disability, decrease healing time, and facilitate the restoration of normal functions to damaged tissues.

This form of heat therapy tends to relax muscle spasms, relieve pain, promote early resorption of excess tissue fluid, and increase blood and lymphatic circulation while maintaining muscle tone and flexibility.

Since freshly healing wounds and scar tissue are especially susceptible to heat damage, the application of hot water whirlpools and other forms of heat for these injuries is not indicated. The temperature of the water should never be excessive. The water should be comfortable for your own hand, about 96* to 104*F.

Drugs, such as magnesium sulfate (Epsom Salts) or mild liniments are commonly added to the hot water to increase the depth of the heat penetration. After whirlpool therapy with warm water, massage and/or exercise may be used to further reduce swelling. The swirling of the water and the jet sprays provide a form of water massage. The main reason for the whirlpool massage is to enhance blood and lymph flow. This increases the available nutrients to the injured area and enhances the removal of waste products and excess tissue fluid.

The effects of massage, both manually and by whirlpool, soon wear off, therefore, the massage should be repeated several times a day for maximum effect. This is part of good nursing care for an injured horse.

Those trainers who utilize ultrasound machines for deep tissue heating and micro-massage can save time by combing this form of therapy with the whirlpool treatment. The head of the ultrasound can be placed in the water, next to the skin. The water in the pool acts as a conducting medium making the application of the messy electrode jelly unnecessary.

The various equipment for performing whirlpool treatments can range from the most simple form -a water hose- to the more elaborate and versatile self-contained whirlpools. Other types of apparatus include plastic tubs and whirlpool boots that cover the horse's limb.

Always remember that specific whirlpool therapy should be designed to meet the needs of an individual horse.

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