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Kissing Spine Disease in Horses: Comprehensive Guide to Symptoms and Treatment

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Kissing spine disease is a condition in horses where the bony projections along the spine come too close, causing pain and limited mobility.

This article will help you understand kissing spine disease, how to recognize its symptoms, and the treatment options available.

Key Takeaways

  • Kissing Spine Disease, or overriding dorsal spinous processes, affects horses primarily in the thoracic vertebrae (T13-T18), with the 15th vertebra most commonly affected.

  • Diagnosis involves a combination of clinical examination and advanced imaging techniques, such as radiographs, nuclear scans, thermography, and ultrasound, to accurately identify the condition.

  • Treatment options range from medical treatments (corticosteroid injections, shockwave therapy, mesotherapy) to physical therapy for core strengthening and surgical interventions in severe cases, followed by a thorough rehabilitation and recovery process.

Understanding Kissing Spine Disease

Kissing spine disease, also known as overriding dorsal spinous processes, is a condition that affects the bony projections along a horse’s backbone. Here, the dorsal spinous processes, designed to protect and support, become too cozy for comfort, leading to an embrace that results in pain and diminished mobility.

While the enigma of its exact cause remains shrouded, factors such as genetics—specifically a predisposition linked to Chromosome 25—alongside biomechanical forces related to the horse’s stature whisper tales of its origins.

The affected vertebrae are usually found in the thoracic segments, specifically from T13 to T18. The fifteenth vertebrae is most susceptible to this condition. Within this region, the drama of kissing spines often plays out, setting the stage for a journey through diagnosis, treatment, and management.

Recognizing Clinical Signs of Kissing Spine Disease

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The clinical signs of kissing spines in horses present a range of behaviors and physical symptoms that indicate the discomfort the horse is experiencing. Often stoic in their pain, these horses may begin to express their agony through a shift in their once-placid temperaments or a reluctance to engage in movements that once brought them joy.

Detecting these subtle cues to diagnose kissing spines demands a keen eye, as the clinical signs can masquerade as training issues or other medical conditions. Thus, diagnosing kissing spines is a true test of equine insight.

Behavioral Symptoms

Behavioral expressions of discomfort, ranging from the subtle to the dramatic, serve as the horse’s plea for help. You may witness your equine friend:

  • bucking with unprecedented fervor

  • expressing an aversion to the saddle as if it were a cloak woven from nettles

  • displaying an obstinate unwillingness to bend and cooperate—a stark contrast to their usual compliant nature.

Activities such as rolling or lying down, which used to be comforting, become tasks that horses avoid due to the pain.

Physical Symptoms

The physical symptoms often tell a more palpable story, revealing themselves through a horse’s sensitivity to touch, a hollow back, or a subtle lameness that refuses to be ignored.

As the topline muscles wane, a once prominent and powerful silhouette may give way to a landscape marred by loss of muscle mass, signaling the presence of kissing spines and poor performance.

Diagnosing Kissing Spine Disease

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The process of diagnosing kissing spines is a crucial part of understanding and treating this condition. Here, the convergence of a detailed history, a thorough clinical examination, and the wizardry of modern imaging techniques come together to illuminate the shadows cast by this enigmatic disease, with kissing spines diagnosed accurately.

Radiographs are the stalwart guardians of truth, flanked by nuclear scans' keen insights, thermography's discerning gaze, and ultrasound imagery's revealing depths.

Clinical Examination

During the clinical examination, the many possible causes of the symptoms are evaluated, distinguishing kissing spines from behavioral issues and training-related problems. The veterinarian’s touch, guided by experience and an intimate knowledge of equine anatomy, becomes a tool of discovery, probing, and assessing to distinguish the root cause of our noble companion’s distress.

Imaging Techniques

Radiographs reveal the secrets of the spinal column, revealing the proximity of the spinous processes with unerring clarity. But the diagnostic tale does not end there. Nuclear scintigraphy whispers of metabolic tales within the bone, and ultrasound offers a glimpse into the soft tissues that dance in close quarters with the bony structures of the back.

Each modality contributes to an overall diagnosis.

Treatment Options for Kissing Spine Disease

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Once the diagnosis has been made, we can begin the journey towards treatment and healing.

The treatment for kissing spines is a quest in its own right. It is a multifaceted approach aimed at quelling the flames of pain and rekindling the mobility of these majestic creatures who may develop kissing spines. With kissing spines treated, they can regain their strength and vitality.

Medical Treatments

Medical treatments that are used effectively to combat inflammation and pain include:

  • Corticosteroid injections, which seep into the spaces between vertebrae, offering respite from inflammation

  • Shockwave therapy, a non-invasive treatment that rallies the body’s own healing forces to mend the affected vertebrae and surrounding muscles

  • Mesotherapy, where tiny needles become the conduits of anti-inflammatory agents, diffusing their soothing magic into the realm of pain.

These treatments can provide relief and help in managing pain.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a key element of recovery, guiding the horse towards restored strength and mobility. Here, the back and abdominal muscles, once weakened by pain, are coaxed back to strength and vitality.

Core strengthening exercises, targeting core muscles, become a daily ritual, fostering stability that emanates from within, while exercises in a long and low frame inspire the horse to rediscover the harmony of movement.

Surgical Interventions

In severe cases of kissing spines, surgical intervention can provide a viable solution.

Interspinous ligament desmotomy, a procedure as precise as it is transformative, grants relief by severing the tension-filled bonds of the interspinous ligament. Endoscopic surgery can reshape the spinal landscape, excising the offending processes and rejoining the ligaments in a harmonious union when the situation demands a more radical approach.

Rehabilitation and Recovery

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Rehabilitation and recovery require both patience and perseverance. It is a journey measured not in strides but in the gentle, steady rhythm of controlled hand walking and the meticulous practice of in-hand exercises.

As our equine companions regain their strength, the reintroduction of ridden work marks a milestone in their return to grace.

Post-Surgical Care

After surgical intervention, the focus of care shifts to:

  • Rest and careful monitoring

  • The stillness of a well-bedded stall as a sanctuary for healing

  • Prescribed pain medications to provide comfort

  • Regular veterinary visits ensure the path to recovery unfolds as intended and that each step forward is taken confidently.

Long-Term Management

Long-term management of the horse involves ongoing vigilance and a variety of care techniques. Regular vet checks serve as the compass guiding the course while cross-training infuses the daily routine with a zest that keeps both body and spirit engaged.

In the realm of hoof care, the artistry of the farrier plays a subtle yet pivotal role, shaping each hoof to support a back free of the specter of kissing spines.

Prevention Strategies

In terms of prevention, a well-fitting saddle is essential in protecting the horse's back. This simple yet profound measure stands as a sentinel against the advance of kissing spines, supported by the disciplined practice of core strengthening exercises and the mindful art of correct riding and groundwork.

Prognosis for Horses with Kissing Spine Disease

Towards the end of the treatment process, the prognosis for horses with kissing spine disease is typically optimistic.

Most horses, having traversed the valleys of treatment and scaled the peaks of rehabilitation, find their way back to the pastures of work and the arenas of performance.

Though their paths may vary, with some returning to the heights from which they descended and others finding contentment in quieter fields, the narrative for many is one of triumph over adversity.


In the unfolding story of kissing spine disease, from the whispers of discomfort to the echoes of recovery, we have journeyed through realms of mystery and medicine.

As stewards of these magnificent creatures, we are armed with knowledge and fortified by the advances in treatment and care. It is a tale of resilience and hope, where the bond between horse and human is both the compass and the anchor, guiding us towards a horizon where every stride is taken in comfort and every gallop is a celebration of health.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the primary causes of kissing spine disease in horses?

Kissing spine disease in horses can be caused by a combination of factors such as genetic predisposition, biomechanical forces, and other less-understood causes.

How can I tell if my horse has kissing spines?

To determine if your horse has kissing spines, observe for clinical signs like behavioral changes, back pain, reluctance to move, sensitivity to grooming, and loss of muscle along the topline. Seek veterinary advice if you notice these symptoms.

Are there non-surgical treatment options for horses with kissing spine disease?

Yes, non-surgical treatments for kissing spine disease in horses include corticosteroid injections, shockwave therapy, and physical therapy. These methods can help manage the condition effectively.

What does rehabilitation involve after treating kissing spines?

After treating kissing spines, rehabilitation involves a phased approach with rest, controlled hand walking, in-hand exercises, and a gradual reintroduction to ridden work, all under regular veterinary supervision. This helps the horse recover and regain strength steadily.

Can horses with kissing spines return to their previous level of performance?

Yes, many horses can return to work after treatment for kissing spines, and some may even resume their prior activity level.