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Extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) is a method of applying energy waves to hard or soft tissue in a particular area of the body. Developed for human use in breaking up kidney stones, the technique has been adopted by veterinarians to reduce pain and stimulate healing in some types of injuries. “Extracorporeal” refers to the fact that the treatment is given from outside the horse's body, in contrast to oral medications, injections, or surgery that are considered more invasive.
How is the treatment administered?
While a veterinary clinic can administer ESWT to inpatients, most practitioners take the therapy to their equine clients. The horse remains standing in his stall and is usually lightly sedated to keep him from moving excessively during the treatment. A veterinarian uses a portable unit to generate high-pressure acoustic (sound) waves. The apparatus is held against the injured area (bone, joint, tendon, or ligament) for about twenty minutes. A typical course of therapy involves three treatments at three-week intervals.
What equine conditions are commonly treated by ESWT?
The best results have been seen in horses with hock problems and proximal suspensory ligament injuries. Stress fractures, ringbone, navicular syndrome, back pain, and tendon injuries have been treated with variable results.
How successful is this treatment?
In a study at Iowa State University, horses with inflammation of the suspensory ligament were treated with ESWT. The treated animals had a decrease in lesion area, improved fiber alignment, and less swelling than animals in a control group. A similar study in Germanycompared ESWT with conventional treatment (rest, cold treatment, blistering, application of anti-inflammatory and steroidal products). Of the conventionally treated group, 50% of the horses returned to full work within six months, while 71% of the ESWT group were able to resume full work in the same time period. In a third study group, horses with bone spavin (degenerative arthritis of the hock) were treated with ESWT. A decrease in lameness was seen in 80% of the treated horses.