Kissing Spines

By: Dr. Lydia Gray

What is it?

Known as “overriding dorsal spinous processes” by veterinarians, this term describes the touching or “kissing” of spinal processes, which are the long thin bones that protrude upward from each vertebrae in the neck or back. Spinal processes that rub together are not only painful to the horse, but can also create additional issues, including bony remodeling (arthritis) and ligament inflammation (desmitis).

What can be done about it?

In some cases, this condition develops after a fall or another injury, but often the conformation of the vertebrae themselves are to blame. It is most commonly found in short-backed Thoroughbreds or Thoroughbred crosses used primarily for jumping. Show jumpers appear to be the most commonly affected, but eventers and hunters suffer from this condition, too.
While some horses with “kissing spines” show back pain, many do not and that can make diagnosis challenging. Other signs pointing to this condition include:

  • Back stiffness
  • Resistance to work
  • Refusing jumps
  • Biting when the girth is tightened
  • Change of temperament
  • Resents grooming
  • Bucking
  • Reluctance to roll or lie down

If your horse is showing some of these signs and you suspect he has this condition, it’s important to work with your vet to get a proper diagnosis.

What else do I need to know?

Your vet will help you determine the best plan for your horse, but common treatment plans include a combination of rest, medical treatment and physical therapy.
Medical treatment may include the injection of steroids into the interspinal spaces, pain medication such as bute, and mesotherapy, a pain-dampening technique that stimulates the mesoderm, the middle layer of the skin. Your options for physical therapy include massage therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic and magnetic therapy. After the prescribed rest period, exercise is often gradually reintroduced through hand walking, lunging and then riding.
Although many horses do well with a combination of rest, medical management and physical therapy, the clinical signs of this condition often return. If this happens, you may need to consider decreasing your horse’s level of performance to avoid jarring the spinal processes together or, in severe cases, performing surgery to remove one or more of the processes.

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About Dr. Lydia Gray

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Mollie and Eden
I started riding when I was 9 years old and quickly got swept up into the competitive hunter/jumper world. I showed my first pony, Chloe, in the Small Pony Hunter divisions were we competed at shows like Fairfield Hunt Club, Old Salem, HITS, and West...

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