How do you identify an animal with a biomechanical problem?

How does the ABM professional do it and how does the owner recognise it?

More obvious examples of symptoms relating to dysfunctions, or joint problems, can include lameness, head throwing in horses, loss of performance, & behavior issues such as girthiness in horses. These signs are often observable to even the untrained eye. More subtle changes also take place that only experienced professional animal practitioners would observe.

Spinal (or other) joint problems may not be the only cause of these signs, however only a professional qualified in ABM will be able to determine if these signs are in fact related to a biomechanical dysfunction, and hence correct the problem.

Most conditions relating to the musculoskeletal system of animals can be helped by ABM to varying degrees. Many of these conditions can also be treated by classic veterinary approaches such as medication, rest, rehabilitation procedures, surgery or injections. Some conditions may also require dentistry, hoof care by a farrier, saddle assessment and exercises and in some cases, these referrals are all that is needed.

The advantage of the ABM approach is that it is drug free, often gets results very quickly, and is addressing the cause of these problems, instead of treating the effects, or symptoms of the problem.

Does my pet need an ABM Assessment?

  • Does your pet look stiff at all?
  • Does your pet have trouble getting up or lying down?
  • Does your pet tire more quickly than it used to?
  • Does your pet play less than it used to?
  • Does your pet yelp or whimper sometimes?
  • Has your pet stopped grooming some areas of its body?
  • Does your pet put off going to the toilet for as long as possible?
  • Has your pet stopped stretching front and back when it gets up?
  • Does your pet struggle going up or down stairs, or jumping up/down?
  • Does your pet avoid you grooming some parts of its body?
  • Does your pet have trouble getting comfortable to rest?
  • Has your pet become bad tempered or aggressive?
  • Does your pet move suddenly or twitch if you touch a certain area?
  • Does your pet have trouble sitting “square”?
  • Does your pet tend to sit with legs to one side?
  • Does your pet limp?
  • Does your pet pace? (Both right legs & both left legs moving together)
  • Does your pet “bunny hop” when s/he runs?
  • Does your pet walk or run ‘crooked’?
  • Does your pet have a skin problem in a confined area of its body?
  • Does your pet lick or chew at an area of its body?
  • Has your pet’s posture changed?
  • Has your pet had orthopaedic surgery – eg cruciate repair, luxating patella or a fracture repair? Are you 100% happy with the recovery from surgery?

If you answered Yes to any of these questions, you should try to find an ABM professional for assessment – it would be a great idea to get your regular veterinarian to do a check-up first.

Does my Horse need an ABM Assessment?

  • Is your horse engaged in regular competition, where maintenance care is recommended?
  • Are there other subtle problems with performance?
  • Does your horse resent you grooming some parts of its body?
  • Does your horse lick or chew at an area of its body?
  • Is your horse girthy?
  • Has your horse become bad tempered, sour or aggressive?
  • Does your horse have areas of abnormal sweating?
  • Does your horse have trouble standing square?
  • Is your horse stepping short?
  • Is your horse bridle lame?
  • Is your horse stiff on one side?
  • Is your horse head shy?
  • Is your horse difficult for the farrier/trimmer? (Particularly if this is a new thing)
  • Does your horse head shake?
  • Does your horse buck/pigroot?
  • Does your horse stumble?
  • Does your horse wear its feet or shoes unevenly?
  • Does your horse drag its hind feet?
  • Does your horse struggle to round up?
  • Does your horse have a weaker canter lead or disunite at the canter?
  • Does your horse prefer one diagonal?
  • Does your horse rush transitions?
  • Does your horse struggle with a particular exercise?
  • Does your horse avoid trot or canter?
  • Has your horse’s posture/conformation changed?
  • Has your horse been diagnosed with any joint issues or arthritis?

If you answered Yes to any of these questions, it would be worth having your horse checked over by an ABM professional. In the case of lameness, it is highly recommended to have the horse assessed by your normal Veterinarian first. If a ridden horse, please bring the saddle(s).

What does being an ABPA Member mean?

Animal Biomechanical Professionals Australia is the professional association formed by graduates of the original RMIT Animal Chiropractic program and including graduates of the new Animal Biomechanical Medicine Graduate Diploma. Membership of ABPA is an indication of the highest available level of qualification to provide this type of care to animals. Members are listed on the ABPA website and take part in continuing professional development provided by ABPA.

What can an ABM Practitioner treat?

Every ABM practitioner has a different caseload, depending on their personal experience and preference and their geographic location. Caseloads range from pet care, with a stong focus on geriatrics, musculoskeletal and related conditions through to the management of elite animal athletes such as race horses, agility dogs, racing greyhounds, eventing and dressage teams and ensurance horses. Many apparently unrelated conditions can be responsive to ABM care, if there is biomechanical dysfunction involved - for example, localised skin conditions, neurological conditions, gait abnormalities and lameness, urinary tracy dysfunction and many more. It is essential that ABM practitioners are aware of potential contraindications to ABM treatment and their scope of practice, offering referral to other professionals where appropriate. With that in mind though, there are many many conditions where addressing biomechanical dysfunction can be an important part of managing the case. Collaboration between various professionals is often required for optimum case management.

How will an ABM Practitioner treat an animal?

An ABM practitioner has a wide range of treatment skills in their 'toolbox', including high velocity adjustments commonly recognised as 'Chiropractic' and more subtle soft tissue or non force techniques which are commonly applied by Osteopaths, and many Chiropractors. The qualified ABM practitioner will employ different approaches in different situations depending on the requirements and responses of the animal patient, the preferences of the client and their own skillset and preference. Every ABM practitioner develops a different approach and style, which can be a little confusing for clients who move between practitioners - but each practitioner will be highly skilled and have something different to offer their patients.

How does Animal Biomechanical Medicine work?

ABM gets results by ensuring the joint & soft tissue biomechanics of an animal are as close to normal as possible. Why is this important? When the joints of the spine and limbs cease to function properly (either individually, or as a group), generally due to injury, a cascade of events is created, which can be broken down into two main groups: Local, and Global.

Local events (restricted to the area around the injury) include;

  • Inflammation around the affected joint
  • Accelerated wear and tear of the joint
  • Ligament strain and inflammation
  • Associated pain and discomfort
  • Irritation to nerve endings around the joint

Global events (includes more widespread effects) include;

  • Abnormal feedback into the central nervous system potentially producing a cascade of changes
  • Muscle spasm in muscles that move the affected joint
  • Referred pain
  • Abnormal sensation, numbness, tingling
  • Trigger points within muscles acting on the affected joint
  • Abnormal movement (gait) of the animal in an attempt to compensate for the problem (which generates its own complications)
  • Other joints become painful due to them compensating for the abnormal joints
  • Spinal joint problems that affect local nerve fibres (as in the spine) can often be seen to affect visceral function such as the gut, bladder and bowel through effects on the ‘Autonomic’ nervous system

By ‘normalising’ the mechanics of dysfunctional tissues, this cascade of events is halted, since the stimulus, or cause, has been removed. A good example is where muscle spasm and trigger points will abate once the nerve supply to those muscles is no longer being affected (irritated) by a joint problem.

Do horses and other animals find ABM scary or painful?

As anyone who regularly interacts with animals knows, it is often the ‘nature’ & manner of the practitioner that scares/frightens the animals more than the procedure itself. Hence, knowing how to establish rapport before, and whilst, working with the animal is of utmost importance, making the task at hand much easier and safer.

This is a formal part of ABM training, and qualified Veterinarians, Chiropractors and Osteopaths with ABM qualifications can usually achieve this rapport with animals quickly, and easily perform their work.

ABM procedures may be uncomfortable for the animal if the area requiring attention is already sore and inflamed, or if the animal has a tendency to resist handling. However, ABM professionals are highly trained at observing and responding to an animal’s subtle signs of discomfort, and have a range of treatment options available so painful or inflamed areas can be addressed without distressing the animal patient.

ABM procedures which involve spinal, and other limb ‘adjustments’, are not inherently painful at all. Other procedures such as resolving soft tissue fibrosis or trigger point work can be uncomfortable for the animal, and the ABM professional will select techniques designed to resolve these areas of tension in the least uncomfortable manner. Many animals appear to understand & lean into the “good pressure”, particularly if they have already learned to trust the ABM practitioner.

Does my horse need to be rested after an ABM Treatment?

When biomechanical dysfunction is present, the nervous system changes its protective reflexes, to compensate for problems such as loss of elasticity, pain or weakness in an area. This may produce changes in gait or posture.

The longer dysfunction is present, the more ingrained the compensation patterns are, and hence there is more resistance to the return to normal. When an animal is treated the nervous system must re-learn how to operate the affected areas properly again. This often takes a little time.

It is often best to build up their workload gradually, so the new changes can be integrated into their new ‘action’. Your ABM professional will advise on return to work, after the treatment is completed. Where an ABM professional is closely involved with the management of equine and canine athletes, treatment may occur close to and even during competition (depending on the rules of competition of course).

Do you need to hear a "crack" sound for the ABM treatment to be successful?

Definitely not!

Many people will have experienced the crack of a Chiropractic adjustment, and expect to observe this when their animals are treated. This “crack” may not occur, and might actually not be the best thing that could happen in many cases.

A qualified ABM professional looks for joints that show restricted movement, particularly in one or more given directions. The detection of these dysfunctions can appear simple, however, it is not, and requires a great deal of experience, and understanding of joint biomechanics, thus should not be treated lightly. There are many ways to treat these joint dysfunctions, from high velocity thrusts, which are more likely to produce “cracks”, through gradual controlled releasing of the tension in an area, to “remote control” where work done in a different area of the body relaxes and allows release at the detected tight/restricted area. In many situations the controlled release, working with the body, produces the most complete and long lasting effect. In some situations, the “crack” is the way to go. The skilled ABM practitioner will choose accordingly.

Sometimes an animal will “crack” itself as it stretches following release work. These natural noises can indicate that the joint is now in a situation where it can release itself.

What makes the "cracking" sound?

When that joint is adjusted, by applying a specific, short sharp thrust in the direction of the restriction, a small amount of separation between the joint surfaces occurs, as does a small degree of movement in the direction of restriction. (Note that most spinal joints individually have only small amounts of movement, yet collectively, allows the large rages of movement we can see in regions like the neck).

During the fraction of a second when the joint surfaces are separated, occasionally, the pressure can decrease inside the joint just enough for dissolved gasses (presumably nitrogen) to form bubbles (like opening a soft drink bottle) and can produce a popping sound.

Producing this sound IS NOT the object of the adjustment, nor should it be used as an indicator of the effectiveness of an adjustment. The emphasis is on regaining movement in the direction of restriction by the thrust. In fact, many ‘lay’ animal therapists would have you believe that a joint has “gone back into place” if you hear a crack or noise. The truth is that joints cannot get “out of place” as such, unless they are actually dislocated.

As it happens, joints that are already too mobile, will generate noises more easily, hence the unqualified practitioner is more likely causing greater harm by creating that “popping” noise.

How often does my animal need ABM Treatments for it to be effective?

ABM involves ‘teaching’ dysfunctional body parts how to move properly again. The longer a problem has been allowed to exist, the more the animal will have adapted and compensated over time. Tissue changes such as muscle spasm and wasting, scar tissue formation and inflammation will become harder to resolve, the longer they exist.

Treating an animal for the first time often involves dealing with the most recent damage first. This is because recent damage is more likely to be reversible. Following this, the longer term problems and consequent damage can then be addressed.

How fast an animal responds depends on several factors including how quickly the problem is detected, how severe and extensive the problem is, the age of the animal and how diligent the owner/handler is in following instructions/advice from the ABM professional. In many less severe cases, one or two treatments may produce an obvious reduction in the previous signs.

Animals may benefit enormously from ABM care for both recent and long-term injuries, often termed ‘acute care’. They may also benefit greatly from a more ‘supportive’ or preventative approach to their spinal health, where professionals qualified in ABM can identify and correct biomechanical dysfunction early, before they have a chance to develop complications, and result in more serious harm to the animal. This can be particularly important when there is a lot of pre-existing damage.

Animals may benefit enormously from ABM care for both recent and long-term injuries, often termed ‘acute care’. They may also benefit greatly from a more ‘supportive’ or preventative approach to their spinal health, where professionals qualified in ABM can identify and correct biomechanical dysfunction early, before they have a chance to develop complications, and result in more serious harm to the animal. This can be particularly important when there is a lot of pre-existing damage.