Health

Laser therapy helps heal a four-year-old Morgan’s unusual facial injury

Saddened by the bony blemish on her horse's face, an owner looks to speed up the healing process and improve the recovery outcome.

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By: Amy Harris |

If you spend enough time with horses, you learn just how adept they are at injuring themselves. Every horse owner has exclaimed, “What have you done to yourself now?” on more than one occasion. Sometimes the source is clear and other times it’s a mystery.

Sarah Hawkins found herself in this position last spring when she discovered her four-year-old Morgan gelding in his stall with a lump on his face. There was no wound aside from the hard, horizontal ridge between Quinte’s eyes.

When the lump did not go away after a couple of weeks, Sarah called out her vet, Dr. Liz Salmon, who diagnosed the youngster with suture line periostitis, caused by blunt force trauma. This is a complicated way of saying Quinte banged his face (likely on the stall bars) and got a lump as a result. But it’s not quite that simple…

Just like with humans, when horses are young, the bones of their skull are not fully fused. The separate bones are joined by slightly flexible junctions called bone sutures or suture lines, which allow the frontal skull bones a small amount of movement as the horse’s head grows – much like the soft spot, or fontanelle, on a human baby’s head. When Quinte banged his face, it caused the bones to shift and led to inflammation at the bone suture near his eye, leaving the hard swelling.

Most often, these lumps are cosmetic only, don’t cause any pain and diminish on their own over time – sometimes taking years to show improvement. Saddened by the bony blemish on Quinte’s handsome face, Sarah decided she wanted to do whatever it took to speed up the healing process and improve the recovery outcome. “It never affected his way of being and didn’t stop us from having a wonderful summer,” she admitted, “but it was an appearance thing. We all know that Morgans are known for their beautiful faces!”

Sarah enlisted Kadri McCrea, owner and operator of Therapeutic Touch Canine and Equine Massage, to help. As part of her practice, Kadri sometimes incorporates low-level laser therapy (LLLT), an alternative medicine that applies a raised level of light to the surface of the body to assist in the healing process. “Energy is put into the injured cells, which causes them to regenerate faster and, therefore, increases the rate of healing,” she said. To get a little more technical, Kadri explained: “Mitochondria are the power plants of cells, which produce energy by converting oxygen into carbon dioxide. When cells are damaged, nitric oxide is produced by the mitochondria, which takes the place of oxygen, effectively reducing ATP – a complex organic chemical which provides energy. This leads to oxidative stress, causing inflammation and cell death. LLLT breaks up the nitric oxide, which allows oxygen back into the cells and permits ATP to be restored. Once this balance is re-established, the cells can regenerate at a faster rate.”

She said, “Laser has been proven to decrease pain, inflammation and swelling, and improve nerve function in both acute and chronic cases. As it is a cumulative process, several sessions are usually required to see results, although many have seen improvement after just one treatment.”

Kadri said she researched suture line periostitis and decided to try laser therapy. “The hard swellings associated with suture line periostitis are much like splints on the legs,” she noted. “Since splints respond very well to laser therapy, we came up with a protocol for Quinte’s face to help reduce the swelling, and the results speak for themselves. In just seven months, we were able restore his beautiful face.”

She added, “Laser and massage are safe, non-invasive forms of natural therapy that greatly increase the quality of life, productivity and overall well-being of animals and people. I have witnessed the benefits of both therapies in assisting healing of wounds, splints, bowed tendons, arthritis, strains and many more ailments our four-legged friends sometimes suffer from.”