kissing spines

Does your horse have a sore back? A condition commonly called kissing spines may be at the root of the issue. It’s an impingement of the dorsal spinous processes, meaning that the tops of the bones in your horse’s spinal column are too close together.

Diagnosis requires x-rays of your horse’s spine, but these may be inconclusive. Radiology usually requires that two views be taken, but this is very difficult in horses. The condition shows up in varying degrees both on radiographs and clinically. Many working horses that have some degree of kissing spines exhibit no back pain or performance issues. For example, the image on page 49 is an x-ray of a horse with vertebral spines that are touching but show no evidence of irritation or inflammation. The segments in front of those that are touching show evidence of a bony reaction (increased whiteness) and these segments are most likely painful to the horse.


There are two types of kissing spines – congenital or acquired. Congenital kissing spines have been present in your horse’s back since he was born. These are probably not going to suddenly cause a sore back.

Acquired kissing spines are the ones with which we need to be concerned. They occur due to lack of muscle tone. When you examine a picture of a horse’s spine, you can see there is not much room between any of the spinous processes in his back. This space is normally maintained with muscle and connective tissue. In order for two spines to suddenly begin kissing, there has to be a lack of tone in the muscles surrounding the affected vertebrae. There are two ways for a muscle to lose tone – lack of use and lack of neurological impulse. Since it takes every muscle in the horse’s body for him to move one step, lack of use isn’t usually the problem. Lack of neurological input is the most likely cause of muscle tone loss in your horse’s back.


The weight of a feather placed on a nerve will decrease that nerve’s transmission by 50%. This feather (usually in the form of a subluxation) could be located anywhere between the sore spot in your horse’s back and his brain. A subluxation means that the vertebrae and corresponding motor unit (surrounding soft tissue and other vertebrae) are not moving correctly.

This lack of movement or kinesiopathology starts with an initial misalignment of the joint. When one segment is not moving correctly, the segments in front or behind may become more mobile in an attempt to maintain normal range of motion. Hyper mobility leads to degenerative changes and eventually loss of mobility in another segment or two. The loss of function in one spinal segment will affect the way your horse’s entire body moves and reacts to the world around him.


Nerves exit the spinal canal between every vertebra. If these nerves receive pressure due to a subluxation, there will be pain in the area. These nerves transmit data from the brain and spinal column to the rest of the body, and then back from these remote areas to the central nervous system. The subluxation acts like a rock on the nerve, not just a feather. Proper body function relies on constant feedback from the organs. In turn nerves direct muscles and organs with signals that allows them to maintain normal vitality.

Pain caused by subluxation and myopathology can stimulate the adrenal gland to secrete more adrenalin. Increased adrenalin in the body causes a decreased neurological impulse and reduced blood supply to the skin, mucous membranes, reproductive and digestive systems. The mucous membranes dry out, making it difficult for immunoglobulins to cross them, leading to respiratory problems. Adrenalin decreases secretions in the digestive tract, resulting in gastrointestinal symptoms (colic). The immune system is suppressed and the body becomes more susceptible to all types of infection.

A certified animal chiropractor will look for the reason for this lack of input. They will find areas of restricted motion in the horse’s spine, and restore motion to the area by using a very specific high velocity adjustment.


Once you have chosen to use chiropractic care on your horse, you must realize that it is a process and not a procedure. As your horse continues to experience life, he will continue to develop subluxations – some in the same places and some in different ones. Even then, chiropractic care can only go so far in helping restore and maintain neurological input. The environment is impacting your horse every second of every day, and his chiropractor only gets to impact it once a month or so. The brain of your horse is responding to approximately one trillion bits (one terabyte) of data every second. This information determines how he stands, walks and responds to cues. When you are working on the computer, putting faulty data in causes defective results. If your horse receives improper or too much input, faulty outcomes result.

A sore stomach will cause the muscles of the back to spasm as the brain reacts to the input of pain. Long toes and under-run heels will cause your horse to lean forward, instead of standing with perpendicular cannon bones. This is due to the feedback the brain is receiving from the soles of his feet – the horse believes he is walking up a hill.

Dental issues will cause problems with jaw function. Improper jaw movement, even if minor, will cause a problem with how your horse senses the world around him. It will cause him to believe that his head is closer to or farther from the ground than it actually is, and he will act accordingly.

An improper stance causes the horse to use muscles differently from how they were designed to be used. Muscles normally meant to be used for movement are recruited into helping the horse stand. This leads to fatigue (stress). Stress is a leading cause of subluxations and results in adding “feathers” to the neurological pathway between the brain and back.


What can be done if your horse has been diagnosed with kissing spines?

• Chiropractic care will help maintain as much movement in the joints between the kissing spines as possible.

• Joint supplements should help decrease inflammation.

• Cold laser and alpha stim – neither of which should heat the tissue – will help decrease pain.

• All-natural cooling liniments may also be used (even under the saddle area) to help reduce pain.

• Physical therapy, including stretching, will increase flexibility in the back all the way to the lumbosacral junction. There is a ligament (supraspinous) that attaches the tips of all the spinous processes together. When the horse’s head is dropped to the ground, the spinous processes are spread apart; when the head is raised, the processes are brought together.

Unless severe radiographic changes are noted, you should still be able to ride your horse. But saddle fit becomes of utmost importance; you must make sure that the gullet of your saddle is both tall and wide enough to ensure no weight on the spinous process of the vertebrae. Padding the rib cage to allow proper motion of the supraspinous ligament also becomes very important. Proper collection with a rounded back should relieve the pressure of kissing spines.

Just like most problems with your horse, the treatment and prognosis of kissing spines requires an accurate diagnosis, whether you plan to use alternative or traditional treatments and therapies.