What is Equine Exertional Rhabdomyolysis
 By Winniefield Park   •   20th Feb 2016   •   1,228 views   •   0 comments

Have you ever had muscle stiffness a day or two after you’ve exercised? Perhaps you spent a day skiing, or playing in an all day soccer tournament. Maybe you’ve tried a new sport or danced the night away. Whatever the cause, the result is that the next day your muscles complain and make it quite clear you’ve overused them. This can happen to horses too. It used to be called Monday morning sickness, because work horses, who had Sunday off, would be stiff and sore when they went back to work on Monday. Sore, cramped muscles after exertion is now better known as tying up. More correct names for the syndrome are Azoturia, Exertional Rhabdomyolysis, or Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy.

Mild tying up may make a horse look a bit lame. Its gait may be slightly stilted. With gentle exercise, the horse may work out of the stiffness. But there are two types: chronic Exertional Rhabdomyolysis and sporadic Exertional Rhabdomyolysis. The later happens when you ride your horse further or longer than its fit for. You might go further on a trail ride than you normally would, climb steeper hills than normal or jump faster or higher at an all day clinic than you’d normally ride. The muscle soreness fades over a few days, perhaps aided by some gentle exercise, massage, stretching and on the advice of your veterinarian, some pain relief medication.

But, tying up can also be quite severe, and if it happens with any frequency it can indicate there may be problems beyond simple overexertion. Chronic ER that happens frequently has underlying causes and can lead to muscle damage. Some things that may cause chronic ER are metabolic or hormone problems, extreme stress, dehydration, thyroid problems, mineral imbalances, an inherited predisposition and electrolyte imbalances.

In addition stiffness or lameness, the symptoms of tying up can include elevated pulse, respiration and temperature, sore sensitive muscles over the hindquarters, standing stretched out as if to urinate, colic symptoms, unwillingness to stand or move, and dark red or coffee colored urine caused by shed protein from the blood. To diagnose ER and rule out other diseases a blood tests can measure the amount of protein present in the blood.

For horses that tie up chronically, stall rest and massage might not be enough. It may need some sleuthing to figure out what in your horse’s diet needs adjusting or just what the underlying cause of the tying up is. Your veterinarian can help you discover if there is anything that can be done to help a horse that chronically ties up. Some horses, especially breeds that are heavier muscled and some bloodlines with a specific genetic makeup are more prone to tying up and therefore will need management throughout their lives to prevent pain and lasting damage to the muscles.

Preventing ER means you will have to be careful not to over-exert your horse. Make sure your horse is fit by working up to long trail rides or other events gradually. For horses who have nutritional imbalances, make changes slowly. Test how one thing is working before starting something else.
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