What is Kissing Spine in Horses – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

If you’re a horse owner, there are few things more upsetting than having your four-legged friend injured.

While horses are generally pretty resilient creatures, there are some conditions that can really put a damper on their health and wellbeing. One of these conditions is kissing spine, which is a bit of a misleading name since it has nothing to do with the level of affection between two horses!

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Kissing spine is a common cause of back pain in horses. It occurs when the vertebrae in your horse’s back touch or ‘kiss.’ This leads to extreme pain, sometimes lameness, and can be severely debilitating to overall horse health.

In this post, we will cover the information on what is kissing spine in horses, as well as the diagnosis, causes, and treatment of this degenerative condition.

Ready to learn all about what is kissing spine in horses? Let’s get into it!

What is Kissing Spine in Horses?

Kissing spine in horses refers to when the spinous processes (which are small bits of bone that extend from the vertebrae) touch each other instead of being spaced apart like normal. As you might guess from its name, this causes spinal pain and sometimes causes a lame horse or even paralysis in the horse.

The diagram below shows a horse’s spine in relation to the rest of its skeleton. You can see the nice, evenly spaced areas between the spinous processes. There is room for flexion and stretching.

horse spine scapulla callouts

Source

Now have a look at the image below. You will notice that this X-ray shows an arrow pointing at an overlapping of bones. These are the spinous processes that are touching (or kissing) each other along the horse’s back. There is no room for comfortable movement and the bones rub painfully together.

spinous process kissing spine horses

Source

Your horse’s spine health is crucial to their ability to work, and as you can tell from that comparison, they won’t be happy to carry a rider around or put in the work they are used to with a Kissing Spine. That is why it is not uncommon for kissing spines in horses to lead to typically docile ponies bucking riders off or acting up when they are in pain. After all, when your back aches, giving a piggyback ride isn’t likely to be on your list of things you’d like to do.

And speaking of riders – your horse can actually develop a kissing spine thanks to a poorly fitting saddle and rider technique. Monitoring rider technique and saddle fit, as well as how your horse is being conditioned in the first place are important aspects of kissing spines prevention.

Some horses are more predisposed to kissing spines. Thoroughbreds and horses who participate in dressage and eventing seem to be the most commonly affected by kissing spines. Some professionals believe that this is because of overuse of the back during collection and lateral movements, leading to the spine compressing and the processes becoming painfully close.

For horses in performance sports, it’s important to make sure their professional care team keeps an eye on their spine and conformation during training and performance and makes changes as needed. Prevention and monitoring are so important in equine kissing spines in horses as it can be difficult to detect the condition until your horse is noticeably impaired or in pain. Maintaining a close relationship with your vet and other care providers can help use professional tools to diagnose and treat this condition before it gets too painful.

Signs & Symptoms of Kissing Spine in Horses

As horse owners, we need to stay vigilant and on guard for the sake of our horses’ health. This is especially true when it comes to monitoring for the symptoms of kissing spine in horses.

Often, a case of mild kissing spine in horses can be hard to detect and may appear to be a different condition altogether at first glance. When a horse does have a kissing spine, the signs vary widely and can include vague or overt lameness, as well as poor performance.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some kissing spine symptoms in horses that you can watch for though.

Kissing spine in horses symptoms include:

  • Bucking under saddle
  • Reluctance to stretch the neck and round the back
  • Hind end lameness
  • Discomfort when saddling or doing up the girth
  • Weight loss
  • Cross cantering or difficulty maintaining a canter
  • Pain when palpating or brushing the back
  • General irritability when moving

You’ll want to be aware that these symptoms of kissing spine in horses are also associated with other conditions, so it’s important to talk with your veterinarian about any concerns you have for your horse. Your vet will be able to help you rule out other health problems

The diagnosis of kissing spines is made through a combination of clinical signs and X-rays of the horse’s back.

Other diagnostic modalities that may be used to check into signs of kissing spine in horses:

  • Nuclear scintigraphy (a bone scan)
  • Ultrasonography
  • Injection of a local anesthetic around suspected painful spinous processes

What Causes Kissing Spine in Horses?

causes of kissing spines in horses

Now that you know some of the symptoms of kissing spine and how it’s diagnosed, let’s talk about what causes this condition.

Equine kissing spine in horses is generally seen as a preventable disease that can be managed fairly easily, though there are some cases where heritability plays a role.

We’re going to cover what causes kissing spine in horses in this section by explaining how the following factors impact your horse:

  1. Breed and genetics
  2. Physical conformation
  3. Conditioning
  4. Arthritis

Let’s stop horsing around and get to what causes kissing spine in horses.

Cause #1: Breed and Genetics

If you have wondered, “is kissing spine in horses hereditary?” then you wouldn’t be alone. Plenty of professionals have tried to answer this question in the name of helping prevent our horses from experiencing the pain of equine kissing spine in horses.

There are findings that seem to demonstrate the link between your horse’s genetics and kissing spine susceptibility. One study examined the genetic data and kissing spine grades of 220 horses. Among 50,000 chromosome locations examined, a single allele location (one-half of two inherited genes) was associated with a greater likelihood of kissing spines.

Translating from science jargon, that means that there does seem to be a link between genetics and the development of kissing spines in horses.

Other factors like age and sex don’t seem to have an impact on the likelihood of developing this condition, but height does seem to have a relationship. As your horse’s height increases, so do the likelihood of developing equine kissing spines in horses.

Additionally, it is noted that certain breeds of horses are more likely to develop kissing spines.

Equine kissing spine in horses is more likely to occur in the following breeds:

  1. Warmbloods
  2. Thoroughbreds
  3. Quarter Horses

If you own one of these kinds of horses, then it’s important to note any changes in their behaviour and focus on careful care to prevent the condition.

Cause #2: Conformation

Conformation is a big factor in whether or not a horse develops a kissing spine.

As you likely know, conformation refers to how your horse is shaped and structured, as it relates to their abilities. Good conformation is the key to good performance, and bad conformation can lead to injuries and painful conditions like an equine kissing spine in horses.

Conformation problems with an equine kissing spine in horses include:

  1. Too-narrow chest
  2. Shallow chest bone (sternum)
  3. Short neck
  4. Large head in relation to their body

Additionally, if their pelvis is too wide or they have a long back with weak muscles connecting their vertebrae together they are also prone.

Good conformation for the prevention of equine kissing spine in horses looks like:

  • A neck that is one and a half times the length of their head
  • A neck that ties into the body high up for good chest space
  • The angle of their shoulders and pastern should be about 40 to 55 degrees
  • Their back should be short, while their neck should be held long
  • A body that is proportionate and symmetrical ensures that your horse is not favouring one side or another and is balancing their weight evenly

Consult your vet if you see sudden changes in your horse’s conformation and make sure you are doing your part in training to condition your horse appropriately for their conformation.

Cause #3: Improper Conditioning

Speaking of conditioning and doing your part to prevent signs of kissing spine in horses, let’s talk about how improper conditioning can lead to kissing spines.

Thanks to several studies and research focused on good conditioning practices around kissing spines, we know there are a few things that make your horse more susceptible to the condition.

Those more likely to develop equine kissing spines in horses are ridden and trained:

  • With a high head
  • With a hollow back
  • Trained under saddle too young

Equines who are ridden under these conditions are more likely to face symptoms of kissing spine in horses.

Why exactly is that the case, though?

A horse needs its dorsal spinous processes (their spine’s vertebrae) to both lift and spread in order to support the weight of a rider while avoiding injury. When a horse’s internal supports, aka the muscles, in the topline and back, are not trained properly, and are weak or held in the wrong manner, it can cause the bones to rub together, resulting in extreme pain.

Consider how important your posture can be as a human. When we sit at desks for a long time or do manual labour, we need to make sure we support our backs and spines with correct posture and abdominal support. Otherwise, our backs can be achy and sore. The same principle applies to your horse with a kissing spine.

Focus on working with a trainer who can help you improve your horse’s posture and avoid the riding no-no list we mentioned above.

Cause #4: Arthritis of the Hock or Sacroiliac

Back pain is well, a huge pain. And equine kissing spines in horses can be a major source of pain, along with arthritis. In fact, kissing spines along with dorsal articular facet arthritis make up 50 to 70 percent of the back problems vets treat in horses.

So to say these two conditions are related is an understatement!

Horses who have a kissing spine tend to hold themselves in a funny way, causing them to develop other back pain and stiffness. Kissing spines tend to affect the area in the middle of your horse’s back, around vertebrates T16 towards the back to L2-3. Arthritis is more likely to affect things further back.

Either way, when these two conditions are both present or are related to each other’s development, you need to tackle a few key problems to reduce kissing spine symptoms in horses:

  1. Reduce cartilage breakdown
  2. Rebuild deteriorated cartilage
  3. Reduce pain
  4. Reduce inflammation

This is because degenerative conditions like arthritis and kissing the spine cause your horse’s joints to break down, leading to pain and discomfort. Supplements with glucosamine chondroitin for horses like Integricare’s TRI-ACTA for equine allow you to take care of everything we just listed in one easy-to-feed supplement, so your horse can face work and play with more comfort, even if they have arthritis alongside equine kissing spine in horses.

TRI-ACTA H.A. for Equine

Our maximum strength formula is perfect for horses that are ageing, experiencing arthritis and stiffness, are in training and competition, or under a heavy workload.

Equine Kissing Spine in Horses Treatment

A diagnosis of kissing spine would have spelled the end of a performance horse’s career in years past. While this can be a painful condition, luckily, there have been improvements in surgical, pharmaceutical, and rehabilitation treatments that give hope to owners of horses with kissing spines.

We’re going to go over a few of the most popular ways to treat equine kissing spine in horses in this post, including:

  • Kissing spine surgery in horses
  • Joint injections
  • Joint supplements
  • Alternative therapies and modalities

Let’s get into the options for treating equine kissing spine in horses!

Joint Injections

You have probably heard about joint injections around the barn for various conditions. They can deliver targeted medicine and treatment to the site of injury most effectively, in a fairly minimal way.

Joint injections can also be used to treat equine kissing spine in horses. Injections to the joints where the spinous processes are rubbing can help alleviate pain and inflammation.

There are several different types of joint injections that can be used to help treat equine kissing spine in horses, as outlined in the table below.

Joint Injections for Kissing Spine in HorsesDescription of Injection
Osphos for Kissing Spine in Horses1Helps decrease bone loss and helps the bone to reform thanks to a mechanism involving calcium phosphate.
Hyaluronic Acid for HorsesHelps to reduce inflammation and improve healing, as well as increase the supply of synovial fluid
Corticosteroids2Helps to reduce inflammation through a synthetic version of cortisol, a naturally occurring substance that helps the body respond to stress

Sources: 1, 2

One of the most common injectable treatments is hyaluronic acid for horses (HA), which is found naturally in the synovial fluid of healthy joints. Hyaluronic acid inhibits inflammation, supplies nutrients to cartilage, and aids healing. These properties make it particularly effective as a treatment for osteoarthritis caused by kissing spine.

You can also get the healing power of hyaluronic acid in a joint supplement like TRI-ACTA H.A. for equine, a perfect complement to a round of joint injections. Combining H.A. oral supplements with injections can even help extend the pain-relieving benefits and increase the amount of time between shots.

Joint Supplements

When it comes to kissing spine, you need to focus on treating the symptoms alongside the problem itself.

When the bones of a horse’s spinous processes rub together, you know there is bound to be pain and inflammation in the joints. Additionally, scar tissue can form, and lead to arthritis.

That’s why it’s so important to tackle the problem alongside treating the symptoms so that it doesn’t worsen or degenerate.

To help with the pain and effects of equine kissing spine in horses, choose a supplement with ingredients like:

  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Glucosamine
  • Chondroitin
  • MSM

These ingredients help reduce kissing spine symptoms in horses, and build back strong, healthy cartilage to support your horse as they pursue other treatments for kissing spine.

Kissing Spine Surgery & Cost in Horses

Sometimes, the best solution for treating your horse’s pain is also the most invasive.

Kissing spine surgery for horses entails using surgical intervention on the sections of the spinous processes or ligaments in the area that are causing your horse pain. Depending on your horse’s condition and other factors, like if they have arthritis, your vet can recommend the best course of treatment for your special equine.

The two types of kissing spine surgery in horses are outlined in the table below.

Kissing Spine in Horses SurgeryWhat It IsAverage Cost of Kissing Spine Surgery in Horses
Spinous Process ResectionRemoves the sections of affected spinous processes to create space between the vertebrates.1$2,500 – $3,0002
Interspinous Ligament Desmotomy (ISLD)Involves cutting the ligaments between the affected spinous processes to relieve tension and give space between the spinous processes. Is a promising, relatively new technique compared to spinous process resection.1$800 – $1,2002

Sources 1, 2

Just remember that like any surgery, there are risks of complications and that recovery plans need to be followed closely for the best outcome after kissing spine surgery in horses.

It is generally recommended that horses remain in the hospital for approximately a week, and then have 6-12 weeks off before riding again. The type of procedure performed, and the aftercare will differ from horse to horse, though, so be sure to ask lots of questions to your vet and follow their instructions carefully.

Following surgery, feeding an extra-strength horse supplement for joints like TRI-ACTA H.A. can help get your horse feeling like their old selves a little faster, and provide the healing support to their soft tissues and joints they need.

TRI-ACTA H.A. for Equine

Our maximum strength formula is perfect for horses that are ageing, experiencing arthritis and stiffness, are in training and competition, or under a heavy workload.

Alternative Therapies

If you want to avoid invasive procedures like joint injections or back surgery due to cost or personal reasons, alternative therapies are worth exploring as well.

It’s important to remember that if your horse is suffering from a severe case of kissing spine that medical and surgical treatment should be first on your list as a way to make sure the problem isn’t worsening.

If you have a case of mild kissing spine in horses, or you’re hoping to approach the problem from a multi-pronged approach, then implementing a few alternative methods can be a great way to alleviate the pain that comes with symptoms of kissing spine in horses.

Some options for treating the symptoms of kissing spine in horses alternatively include:

  • Mesotherapy: Injection of substances to stimulate the mesoderm, or middle layer, of the skin.
  • Shockwave therapy: Focuses waves of energy at the pain points to stimulate healing naturally.
  • Chiropractic care: Helps restore your horse’s joints to a natural range of motion.
  • Acupuncture treatments: Stimulating the body in specific locations in order to create a therapeutic effect.

Lastly, the right conditioning and exercise plans can help alleviate pain from kissing spine. Horse strength training has shown promise in reducing lameness caused by various types of arthritis in laboratory studies.

Start Tackling Kissing Spine Symptoms in Horses

tackling kissing spine symptoms in horses

The next time your horse starts acting out of the ordinary when you get them under the saddle, you’ll be prepared. And now that you know that the pain in your horse’s back can be managed, you can keep your equine friend on track. Just remember the most important thing you can do to take care of your horse is to get in touch with your vet if you suspect a kissing spine.

The next most important thing?

Supporting their joint and soft tissue health through a supplement like Integricare’s TRI-ACTA for Equine.

It is an all-inclusive joint supplement that contains active ingredients such as chondroitin and glucosamine. These ingredients help reduce inflammation and joint pain caused by the condition, making it easier for your horse to move freely, whether you’re pursuing surgery for a severe case of kissing spine in horses or managing a case of mild kissing spine in horses at the barn.

Find out where to buy Integricare’s TRI-ACTA for Equine, and get started protecting your beloved pal’s joints from painful degenerative joint conditions like kissing spines.

TRI-ACTA for Equine

Providing preventative support for younger horses and helping mitigate the early onset of joint degeneration and other mobility issues.

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