Ouch! – The Tendons 

Acupuncture and Acupressure to address Tendon Problems in Horses  

Tendon and ligament damage and injuries are among the most common causes of lameness, especially in race and sport horses. They are also feared because healing and rehabilitation often take a long time. 

Tendons and ligaments connect muscles and bones and include structures which are more or less elastic and made of fibrous connective tissue. Joints are thereby stabilised and, to a certain extent, the control of mobility is ensured. 

Tendons and ligaments can suffer damage from overloading or overstretching. Depending on the stressors, smaller or larger fibre tears can occur. Race and sport horses and horses with relatively weak tissue are particularly at risk. Tendon problems are often aggravated by unfavourable shoeing or trimming, hoof imbalances, training on too soft or too hard ground, unfavourable footing and excessive demands on the musculoskeletal system. A distinction must be made between acute and chronic problems. 

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, tendons and ligaments are associated with the transformational phase of Wood. The Liver and Gallbladder meridians and the associated organs are equally assigned to this element. 

The ability of tendon structures to contract and relax depends on the nourishment and moistening with liver blood. When liver blood is plentiful, tendons and ligaments are moistened and nourished, ensuring mobility, flexibility and good muscle action. If there is a deficiency or stagnation in the area of the blood, they can be weakened. This results in restricted flexibility and stretchability of the tendons and ligaments, which predisposes them to injury 

In addition to blood, Qi – life energy – also plays an important role. Qi is responsible for movement and transport, among other things, and moves through the meridians together with the blood. When blood flows poorly, Qi does not move either. The stagnation of liver blood can therefore also result in immobility with painful stiffening and hardening of the tendons. 

The Qi for tendons and ligaments is basically supplied by the Gallbladder channel. Also, the master point of the tendons and ligaments can be found on the Gallbladder meridian (GB 34). 

In thoroughbreds with tendon injuries on the forehand, which have occurred on the racetrack or in training, the element of fire also often plays a role. Fire is related to speed, so many racehorses can be classified as fire types in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The Heart, Small Intestine, Triple Heater and Pericardium meridians associated with fire all run along the forehand. They are particularly challenged during heavy exercise and are therefore particularly vulnerable. 

In practice, the actual areas affected are determined via a thorough assessment and inquiry as well as palpatory examination of the affected structures and diagnostic points. On this basis, the appropriate treatment protocol is then drawn up. 

Musculoskeletal pain caused by Qi and/or blood stagnation generally responds well to acupuncture and acupressure. A complimentary treatment in combination with conventional medical therapy is recommended. 

The healing process can be supported and accelerated. Nevertheless, it is important not to bring the horse back into work too early because of the rapid pain relief and to allow sufficient time for regeneration and rehabilitation instead. 

Image: (c) Juillian Richard