Around the barn or out and about in the horse community there is a good chance that the term Kissing Spine or Hunter Bump has been mentioned. But what exactly is this Kissing Spine in horses or Hunter Bump? The two terms refer to the same spinal formation, but Kissing Spine is the more popular title. Kissing the spine is a condition that involves two or more spinous processes (vertebrae). Flanges of bone that stick up from the spine end up being positioned so they touch or rub together causing back pain in some horses and not in others.
How Does the Kissing Spine in Horses Develop?
Horses that develop kissing spine receive a positive diagnosis of the condition between the ages of five to ten, but can develop at any age, younger or older. Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods tend to develop kissing spines more often than other breeds but it can happen to any breed.
Kissing spine usually develops in the last few thoracic vertebrae and in most horses this is the same spot where a saddle and or rider sits when mounted. Kissing the spine has also been seen in the lumbar vertebrae but is very uncommon.
What Causes Kissing Spine?
Thoroughbreds, warmbloods, and performance horses tend to be diagnosed with kissing spines more than others. A poorly fitting saddle, improper training that allows the horse to carry itself improperly with their head up, back hollow, and little to the engagement of their core or hind end muscles. Genetics may also be a factor but has yet to be confirmed.
Signs of Kissing Spine In Horses
Horses with mild development of the kissing spine usually do not show any signs of it being present. Signs of kissing spine are highly inconsistent and vary largely from horse to horse. Horses with vague or overt lameness and are performing poorly overall could be from the presence of this condition.
Many horses will become hypersensitive when being brushed or saddled. Sudden changes in behavior when ridden such as bucking, rearing, head tossing, kicking out, hollowing their back, resisting the bite, inconsistent with upward and downward transitions, cross-cantering, refusing, or rushing fences, are signs of back pain. Many horses will also have tenderness in their backs and are often sore to the touch.
Diagnosing kissing spines can be a challenge. Some of the kissing spine signs are difficult to determine if they are from a behavioral or training issue, an unrelated medical condition, or a secondary problem, resulting directly from back pain. Thermograph, which uses an infrared camera can very accurately detect heat patterns and be very helpful in some cases. Ultrasounds and seeking the medical attention from a specialist is best to get the most accurate diagnosis.
Treatment For Kissing Spine
The most important part of treating kissing spine is to make the horse feel as comfortable as possible. The purpose of the treatment is to create a significant amount of pain reduction, muscle relaxation, and exercises. The exercises are intended to stretch and strengthen the back and abdominal muscles, stabilize posture and improve mobility.
Shock wave therapy applied to affected vertebrae and surrounding muscles, anti-inflammatory injections to the area affected with kissing spine and corticosteroid injections to the spaces between the vertebrae. Physical therapy with daily exercises that allow the horse to move freely in a relaxed frame allowing them to stretch and the use of an aqua treadmill is highly recommended.
All forms of back pain are generally difficult to diagnose and find issues that are causing the pain. The assessment is drawn from any type of imaging along with visual signs, and examination of the horse. Your veterinarian can create a treatment plan that will be most suitable for making your horse the most comfortable.
As you follow the treatment plan, remain patient with your horse. Remember that the muscles that supported the kissing spine will be shifting to allow the vertebrae to separate. The muscles will then need to become strong in the proper form to maintain the new structure. Make sure to complete the full treatment plan, unless otherwise advised by your veterinarian.