Surrey Veterinary Physiotherapy
Subchondral Bone Cyst in Filly Subchondral Bone Cyst in Filly Subchondral Bone Cyst in Filly

Horses are amazing animals, willingly offering to carry us and perform feats of sporting prowess at our whim. Their strength of character is a constant source of amazement for many.


This strength doesn’t just extend to an ability to perform, it’s also deep-rooted in innate survival mechanisms such as the ability to mask pain. Horses will carry on whilst in discomfort, showing no outward clinical signs, until the pain becomes too great to mask further. Why? Well, if you cast your mind back to all those Attenborough documentaries, where you’ve willed on the sick or old wildebeest against the cheetah it all makes sense. Showing signs of weakness singles you out for attack.


An observant owner may notice a change in temperament, more lethargy, depression, grumpiness, poorer performance, but nothing concrete, and nothing to suggest that the horse shouldn’t be worked. Occasionally more extreme behavioural problems occur; nipping when tacked-up, bucking, rearing or napping as an attempt to pass on the message that they’re uncomfortable.

Sadly this amazing ability to mask pain doesn’t benefit our domesticated friends, as we’re likely to unwittingly continue with more schooling to overcome the loss of performance, or aversion training to combat those ‘nasty’ vices and nip them in the bud. Even if we do listen to these subtle messages we’re in a quandary; whatever’s wrong isn’t enough to call the vet, and if you did, where would he or she start, and at what cost?

There is an answer. Problems in horses can be detected before any clinical symptoms, with Veterinary Thermal Imaging. Once the affected area is identified it’s easy for your vet to hone in with specific tests, or to start a remedial programme immediately.During a two-year study it was shown that Thermal Imaging could effectively and accurately pick up subtle changes in temperature prior to major injury occurring in 95% of cases, and 2-3 weeks before the trainer or vet became aware. Of those horses that underwent clinical examination for lameness, Thermal Imaging correctly predicted the site of the injury in 95% of cases.[i]

Man versus Machine

Veterinary Thermal Imaging as a new technology and technique has been perfected over the last thirty years.

Using a camcorder-sized, portable camera, images mapping the surface temperature of your horse (thermograms) can be produced. These provide an excellent correlation to seats of pain, as the physiology (or blood flow) of the horse changes overlying a problem as the body works hard to repair itself. Warmer than expected areas overlie inflammation, infection, muscular spasm, tissue lesions etc, and cooler than expected areas overlie areas of scar tissue, thrombosis, nerve dysfunction and chronic degenerative conditions such as arthritis.

The first thermogram was produced by Hippocrates 2400 years ago. He laid a wet clay soaked cloth across the throat of a patient and determined that the area to dry first was the problem. Vets and owners have been feeling legs for centuries to gauge differences in temperature linked to injury. So, whilst observing temperature differences is nothing new, what is new now is how objective and accurate we can be about it. Human hands can detect a 2oC difference, but Thermal Imaging is 40 times more sensitive than this, detecting changes sooner and with more accuracy. Each thermogram is produced from 76,800 individual temperature readings.

Thermal Imaging is non-contact, non-invasive and doesn’t emit any radiation, so can be repeated as often as required with no adverse effects on horse or handler. It doesn’t require travelling, sedation, or clipping. Where deemed beneficial, Surrey Vet Physio clients benefit from thermal imaging as part of their animal's routine clinical work-up.

A holistic approach

Often horses don’t have just one problem associated with lameness or a bad back. Often there are other secondary causes which may be overlooked, and cause the primary problem to reoccur unless they’re also treated. Thermal Imaging is an excellent tool to identify these secondary problems so they can be managed too.

·         bad backs

·         joint damage

·         muscular problems

·         ligament and tendon lesions

·         dental pain

·         nerve dysfunction

·         foot balance

·         saddle fitting    


Case studies

During routine Thermal Imaging a rare subchondral bone cyst was found in this 9 month old filly’s pastern, she showed no signs of lameness, but had become grumpy. Early surgical intervention means an excellent prognosis as no bone grafting was required. Six monthly scanning is being used to check that there are no more areas where cysts are developing.


A five year old eventer with a severe rearing and napping vice was rested for two weeks before thermal imaging. It showed extreme hot spots along her spine, and intersecting horizontal bands of heat called warm nerve root signatures. An x-ray showed kissing spines, and she’s receiving physiotherapy now.


Unusual colour bandings, called dermatomes, were present on this six year old pony’s legs. She was failing to track-up properly. Dermatomes indicate that one or more branches of the spinal cord are being constricted, the pinched nerves send out a signal to the part of the body they control to vasoconstrict.


Thermal imaging can safely be used on all species.


[i]Thermographic assessment of racing Thoroughbreds. TA Turner J Pansch J Wilson. Proc Conference on Equine Sports Medicine and Science 2002 p207

Helen offers thermal imaging as a veterinary referral service, alongside her physiotherapy work. She trained in Veterinary Thermal Imaging at the University of Florida’s Veterinary School, and is a member of the EAT and UKTA.




Mobile Animal Physiotherapy Service

Mobile Animal Physiotherapist providing Equine Massage, Canine Massage, Pet Physiotherapy, Equine Physiotherapy, Canine Physiotherapy, Veterinary Physiotherapy Referral and Animal Rehabilitation services. Animal Physiotherapy in Surrey, Hampshire, West Sussex, Guildford, Aldershot, Farnham, Woking, Milford, Godalming, Hindhead, Farnborough, Elstead, Bordon, Liss, and Liphook. Physiotherapist in Animal Therapy

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Animal Physiotherapist located on the Surrey/Hants border. Mobile and fully insured Veterinary Physiotherapy service.  Canine Physiotherapy for injured dogs, Equine Physiotherapy for lame horses, Physiotherapist in Animal Therapy.   Animal Physiotherapist for old-aged cats and dogs with arthritis.Follow tweets from an Animal Physiotherapist covering Surrey, Hants and west Sussex.  See how our Veterinary Physiotherapy service could benefit your animal. We also offers a Canine Physiotherapy service for injured and old dogs. Equine Physiotherapy is available for lame horses and those recovering from injury. Animal Therapy is also available for cats and dogs.Watch our Equine and Animal Physiotherapy videos on YouTube - Our Veterinary Physiotherapist demonstrates massage and stretching techniques for Animal Therapy - Helen Morrell is a regulated Animal Physiotherapist.