Horses commonly develop soft tissue injuries and some folks use heat on these injuries and some use cold therapy. Dr. Kevin Haussler with the Colorado State Veterinary Orthopedic Laboratory indicates in The Horse magazine that humans with soft tissue injuries are now commonly treated with cold and warm temperatures in quick succession with heat greater than 104°F and cold less than 59°F. At these temperatures, they are using only mild heating and cooling of the tissues. This technique in humans has been shown to help post-exercise recovery, help treat acute soft tissue injuries, and improve neurological recovery. This is in contrast to previous recommendations for soft tissue injuries of cold for the first 48 hours and then heat application.
Dr. Haussler indicated some horses don’t tolerate cold well and heat incorrectly applied can cause inflammation instead of decreasing inflammation. Because of this, he developed a pneumatic sleeve for applying this cold and heat therapy to the lower limbs of horses that alternates between cold and heat every 15 minutes for 2 hours. The pneumatic sleeve was effective at skin, subcutaneous tissues, and the superficial digital flexor tendon as these tissues reached the desired temperature, but the deeper tendons like the deep digital flexor did not reach the desired temperature. He indicated there is a lack of research in many areas of equine rehab and more research is needed to determine if this is effective in horses, the time intervals that are most effective and the temperatures that are the most effective. Dr. Haussler agreed that typically we use cold for acute injuries and heat for chronic injuries but by alternating heat and cold, we can potentially tap into additional mechanisms to manage injuries in horses.