The cold saltwater spa works as a means of hydrotherapy. The spa is used more for healing, or recovery after a long workout, and the following information, according to CET Equine Spas and also a scientific article by Dr. Paul Van Dam, explains the effectiveness of the spa, how it can be beneficial to the horse, and what types of injuries it heals.
When the horse is injured, the horse’s body responds through inflammation, but while this process is the body’s way of dealing with an injury, there are still negative effects that this kind of response can have on the body if the severity of the swelling continues to increase (Van Dam 2009). CET Equine Spas explains the natural process the horse’s body undergoes in response to an injury, and it begins with enzymes and proteins, which causes the dilation of the blood vessel walls and in turn make them more permeable. The increase in permeability allows lymphocytes to reach the area of the injury, and they begin to fight off infection. A buildup of extra fluid immobilizes the injury, which leads to edema and swelling, and the pain from triggered hormones prevents the horse from excessively using the injured limb. Increase in blood flow to the injured area also causes the temperature to increase in the area of the injury and its surrounding tissues. However, while the body is working in this way to fight off infection and heal the injury, inflammation can also become a negative effect on the healing process by causing issues such as secondary tissue damage, or even hypoxic injury, which is defined as inadequate oxygenation of the blood. Fluid buildup can also slow the flow of blood and lymphatic fluid, as the blood vessels in the area of the injury undergo an increase in pressure. Therefore, in order to decrease these negative effects and simultaneously decrease the time it takes to the injury heal, the cold saltwater spa can be used.
According to CET Equine Spas, the beneficial therapeutic aspects of the spa are attributed to a combination of salt concentration, temperature, aeration, and water depth. Each of these aspects ultimately work by decreasing the fluid buildup in the area of the injury. The high salt content in the water achieves this affect by drawing the fluid away from the affected area. The cold temperature of the water aids in decreasing the blood vessel wall permeability, and in addition to this decreasing fluid buildup, it also numbs the area and decreases the metabolic response of the cells. Decreasing the metabolic response of the cells means that the cells will not require as much oxygen to function and will therefore undergo less hypoxic injury. Aeration increases the levels of dissolved oxygen to further increase the healing process, and the massaging effect that aeration has on the soft tissue works to reduce fluid buildup by encouraging its dispersion away from the injured area. Lastly, as water depth increases, so does the pressure placed on the tissues, and this pressure aids in moving the accumulated fluids out of the area of the injury.
The benefits of the cold saltwater spa can be used to treat a variety of injuries. CET Equine Spas suggests that joint conditions, laminitis, hoof injuries, ligament injuries, tendonitis, shin splints, soft tissue injuries, abscesses, and windpuffs or windgalls are all examples of cases that can be treated through time in the spa. Case studies of a horse with a tendon injury, a horse with windgalls, and a horse with an open wound injury—all of which utilized the spa for treatment—showed positive improvements after using the spa. Additionally, aside from treating already existing injuries, the spa can be used for recovery after a conditioning or workout session. The same benefits of reducing inflammation and dispersing fluid can help to prevent the onset of injury and aid in recovery after work. In Van Dam’s article, it is explained that after exercise, microscopic lesions occur in the tendons and the bones, and regular hydrotherapy sessions aid in remodeling before they can turn into injuries. In conclusion, it is also stated that any and all conditions affecting the lower limb of the horse can be effectively treated using hydrotherapy (Van Dam 2009). Therefore, through knowing how the cold saltwater spa works and understanding its uses, it becomes clear that using the spa as a means of hydrotherapy can indeed benefit the horse in a variety of cases.
The above series of images is from a case study from CET Equine Spas, chronologically showing the progression of a wound injury. On the left is an image of the wound before treatment. In the middle is an image of the wound after stitching. On the right is an image of the wound after the horse had four weeks of hydrotherapy treatment in the cold saltwater spa (https://www.cet-equine-spa.com/equine_spa_case_studies.html).
By: Equine Kinetics, Inc., Pipersville, Bucks County, PA
Edited: Kristina Griffiths, MSc & Stefanie Simoni, BS
CET Equine Spas, 2018, www.cet-equine-spa.com/index.html.
Van Dam, Paul. “Healing with Water.” SA Horseman, Mar. 2009, pp. 38-41.