Let’s talk Kissing Spines!

A term that most horse owners are aware of, even if they haven’t encountered it in their own horse. Kissing Spines, or Overriding Dorsal Spinous Processes is a common condition in horses.

kissing spines in a horse
Credit: TheHorse.com

What are Kissing Spines?

Kissing Spines are when the spinous processes (the bits that stick upwards) at the top of the spine are too close together and rub against each other. They can occur pretty much anywhere along the back, but are more common in the last thoracic vertebrae which is where the rider would normally sit. It’s at this point the spinal processes change from slightly tilted back to slightly tilted forward. Some breeds seem to be more prone to it, but a genetic component, if it exists, is yet to be found.

Signs of Kissing Spines:

The clinical signs of Kissing Spines vary between horses, with many horses not showing any signs at all despite x-rays showing their presence.

Subtle signs include;
– general poor performance
– decreased ROM
– girth issues
– behaviour issues during grooming

More obvious signs include;
– reluctance to be mounted
– hollowing back when saddling
– behaviour changes in work
– bucking, biting or kicking
– trouble with transitions
– refusing jumps
– reluctance to roll

Causes of Kissing Spines:

As mentioned, there have been no established genetic component but horses such as Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods seem to be more prone. Other factors can include;- poor conformation- poor training

What can be done?

There are a few options with Kissing Spines. It’s not necessarily the career ending diagnosis but each case is individual. Medically, the horse may be given steroidal injections, pain killers and/or muscle relaxants.
Alternatively, there are two surgical options. The first involves removing the parts of the spinal processes that are touching. The second involves cutting the interspinous ligament in a procedure known as ISLD.

Can physiotherapy do anything for Kissing Spines?

It definitely can! In fact, physiotherapy may be critical in treating Kissing Spines, regardless of treatment options.
At a conservative level, animal physiotherapy will build and strengthen core muscles, which support and lift the back, helping to spread the spine and correcting the way the horse carries itself.
Physiotherapists may also have therapeutic ultrasound that can help release the surrounding muscles/ligaments. They may also have modalities that help relieve pain, and aid in post operative recovery.

Something to keep in mind:

A good farrier and saddle fitter also play a strong role in managing Kissing Spines

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