What is a vertebral subluxation complex (VSC)?

The simplest way to think of a vertebral subluxation complex (VSC) is “stuckage”. Two vertebrae in the spine are not moving as well as they should be in relation to each other—hence, they are stuck.

The result of a VSC is that the animal loses normal flexibility in that portion of his spine. He must compensate for this lack of movement by overflexing a different part of his spine. This causes him to use more energy and engage different muscles than he would if his spine were working properly, which can result in muscular tension and stiffness. If the vertebrae remain stuck in this fashion, over time this will ultimately negatively affect the horse’s performance and lead to more VSC’s and subsequent compensations.

Additionally, reduced mobility at a VSC can affect the nerves that leave the spinal cord between these adjacent vertebrae, interfering with the flow of sensory information to or output from the brain and spinal cord. In turn, this can affect the animal’s coordination, causing the animal to be unable to perform at his best and putting him at risk for missteps that can cause injury.

How does a person adjust an animal as large as a horse?

Remember that the chiropractor is not trying to move an entire horse but rather a specific joint in the horse’s spine. Every joint has sensitive nerve receptors which send messages to the brain. The adjustment, a high velocity , low force thrust by hand, stimulates these nerve receptors. To be successful the adjustment is applied to a specific joint in a specific direction. The adjustment restores normal motion in the joint and alleviates muscle spasm and pain.

How many adjustments will my horse need?

Several factors determine the number and frequency of adjustments required to correct a problem. The horse’s age , physical condition, and severity of the problem are three major factors. Also the length of time that the problem has been present is a factor. Generally speaking , though, a horse responds much quicker to chiropractic adjustments than people do. Often changes in the horse’s attitude and movement can be noticed even after one treatment. Three treatments a couple weeks apart will resolve a lot of minor issues. A lot of owners and trainer will continue with periodic treatments to keep their horses at their optimum, especially during competitive season.

How long does a treatment take?

Initial visits take about half an hour to an hour and include a history, gait and posture assessment and then a spinal exam and treatment. Subsequent treatments take 15-45 minutes and include a brief re-assessment and treatment

How does a person become an equine chiropractor?

To be fully certified as an equine chiropractor you must be a veterinarian or a chiropractor first. Then you attend a school for animal chiropractic. There are now several such schools in the United States and Europe and most recently two schools in Ontario. Upon successful completion of one of these schools you must then pass a certifying exam by the American Veterinarian Chiropractic Association (AVCA) or he International Veterinarian Chiropractic Association (IVCA).

 How do I know if my horse is subluxated?

 Horses with subluxation complexes may present with many symptoms, with the most common symptom being pain.  Horses that are in pain often exhibit this with changes in their posture, by refusing to work, or by changes in their behavior.  The animal attempts to compensate for the pain by changing their posture and way of going, which can result in other problems such as joint changes.

What to look for:

  • Abnormal posture while standing
  • Horse may show discomfort when being saddled
  • Horse may show discomfort when ridden
  • Reduced performance
  • Difficulty bending or flexing of the neck or back
  • Evasion issues such as throwing its head up, grabbing the bit, or hollowing the back
  • Pinning ears, bucking, or swishing tail
  • Refusing jumps or knocking rails
  • Difficulty with collection or lateral movements
  • Horse may exhibit abnormal behavior issues
  • Facial expression of pain or apprehension
  • Sensitivity to touch

Changes in muscle coordination and flexibility include:

  • Horse is not tracking up
  • Inability or difficulty engaging the hindquarters
  • Differences in muscle size and/or tone
  • Irregularity of gait, which cannot be assigned to a particular leg
  • Difficulty flexing at the poll
  • Inability to stretch or lengthen topline
  • Brushing or interfering
  • Stiffness on one side of the body or neck
  • Lack of coordination in gaits
  • The horse may seem “off”
  • Shortened stride in one or more legs
  • Stiffness coming out of the stall
  • Horse pulls against one rein
  • Overall decreased range of motion in gait
  • Back does not swing

How do I know if my dog is subluxated?

It is common for subluxations to cause pain when present.  Dogs that are in pain will often compensate in their gait or posture.  An animal may also refuse to perform usual activities or have a change in attitude or behavior.

What to look for:

  • Unusual posture while standing
  • Reluctance to move
  • “Puppy sitting” or sitting with hind legs off to one side
  • Decreased performance
  • Wringing or tucking tail
  • Change in behavior such as fear biting
  • Discomfort when taking off or putting on collar or harness
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Inability to climb stairs or jump onto raised areas
  • Discomfort when taking off or putting on collar or harness
  • The animal lies on only one side
  • Signs of pain when performing certain movements or being lifted
  • Unwillingness to go over jumps or obstacles.
  • Apprehension or pain in facial expression.

 Muscle and co ordination issues such as:

  • Decreased coordination when moving
  • Pacing gait
  • Differences in muscle size and/or tone
  • Partial weakness or paralysis
  • Stumbling while walking
  • Overall stiffness
  • The back does not swing
  • Irregularity of gait which cannot be assigned
  • to a particular leg or gait
  • Stiffness on one side of the body or neck
  • Abnormal movement patterns, i.e. sidewind or crab
  • Shortened stride in one or more legs
  • Overall decreased range of motion in gait
  • Recurrent anal gland infections
  • Recurrent ear infections

How do I know if any of my pets have a subluxation?

It’s important to know that subluxations are painless initially (just as a tooth cavity starts out). Vets, pets and owners don’t know they’re there, only a professional trained to locate vertebral subluxations can locate them in the early stages.

Advanced subluxations can show up on x-rays later as osteoarthritis, or degenerated discs and joints. It is important to note that human research has shown that chiropractic care can slow down or stop further advancement of degenerative arthritis in the spine.

An owner may see an advancing case reveal itself, weeks, months or years later in any number of ways, such as as a roach back (curved top line), tender or flinching back or flank, altered head/tail positions, gait abnormality i.e. foot swings forward in an arc like motion.  Perhaps the dog no longer likes certain activities like grooming, less stretching, avoids stairs or jumping up, avoids human contact, overall energy loss, or is not playful anymore. If the owner has recognized any of these indicators, it usually means it is the “tip of the iceberg” and a larger problem (subluxation) is looming underneath.

How do chiropractic adjustments correct subluxations?

An adjustment is a short controlled thrust onto the vertebra in a very specific direction that will restore movement to the fixated joint. Chiropractic is very specific, and adjustments are made directly on the vertebra with a spring-loaded device called an Integrator, or by hand. Although Dr Broadhurst pays particular attention to the spine, she may also adjust the legs, jaw, or skull.

After the adjustment, there is a healing time while the animal processes the adustment.  . Dr. Broadhurst will not “cure” anything. She will restore the normal position of the joint, which removes any nerve interference and bring back motion and health to the body. The animal will do the healing, all by itself from the inside.

My pet may be too aggressive to come in to your office – a vet visit is always traumatic. What can I do?

Fear and aggression may be caused by the discomfort and pain your pet is living with. We take all possible precautions and the time, to ensure that your pet has a positive experience at our office. Many animals become their former loving selves after treatment as for the first time the actual cause of their suffering is being addressed. Ensure that your pet is well fed and rested prior to their appointment. Walk them if they are able. Consider using a head halter or bringing a muzzle.

Do you treat other animals?

Yes. Please call for more specific advice on how we may help your cat, guinea pig, horse ……. keep in mind that we work closely with your vet’s supervision.

What conditions respond to animal chiropractic?

The spine acts as the framework for the body – the spinal column supports almost all muscles and the spinal cord carries nerves to every organ. Every system in the body – digestive, nervous, cardiovascular, endocrine, excretory, immune, muscular, reproductive, respiratory, integumentary and skeletal – is affected by the health of the spine. Conditions that respond to animal chiropractic include hernia, limping, osteoarthritis, ear infections, incontinence, and fertility issues.

Will this conflict with my vet’s advice?

No!  Chiropractic care is in essence complimentary and integrative care. Treatment is a strong foundation for any and all other forms of health care.

How long is each treatment and how many will my pet need?

Each adjustment takes approximately 10 minutes. There is a period of healing after each treatment and you will notice a change in your pet’s energy level – they may be tired, or more spry, depending on their condition. Some conditions resolve after one or two treatments, others require regular maintenance to ensure maximum function. Dr Broadhurst will discuss the course of treatment that is specific to your pet.

Are your fees the same as for human chiropractic?

No, our fee schedule reflects the fact that animals are different than our human patients.

Do you make house calls?

Not for small animals. Our office is welcoming and well equipped, offering an ideal setting for your initial consultation and subsequent treatments.

Do you sell nutritional supplements for animals, like glucosamine? And specialty foods?

No. Only your veterinarian is allowed to administer nutritional advice. Any questions regarding supplements, medications or nutrition should be discussed with your vet.

What an animal chiropractor does that a vet doesn’t do ?

While vets can do a lameness exam they cant unstick a joint, and as you know in competition its all about movement & symmetry. We help your horse to regain its full range of motion by pin pointing and restoring joints to full health.

Do chiropractors and vets work together?

Absolutely. Chiropractic can also offer valuable assistance to veterinarians dealing with lameness.  The goal here is to find the primary source of pain, rather than treating what might be a secondary source.  In equine practice, back problems and leg injuries are often inter-related.  An example of this might be an acute lower limb injury causing the horse to later his gait and carry the affected leg abnormally.

The abnormal weight bearing and altered gait can subsequently overwork or injure associated back muscles.  Back injuries can result in increased forces to the joints, resulting lameness, or gait alterations in the feet and legs, as the horse tries to protect its sore back.. Unless the primary cause of the back pain is identified and treated, most horses will have recurring back pain when returned to work after a period of medication and/or rest.

Chiropractic provides expertise in the evaluation of back and joint problems that can provide the veterinarian additional means of diagnosis and early treatment options in certain lameness problems; especially conservative treatment of biomechanically-related musculoskeletal disorders.


It should be stressed that chiropractic, in no way, should be thought of as a replacement for conventional veterinary medicine, but rather as a valid, concurrent, complimentary treatment procedure for many back and lameness problems.  And as with any health related problems or conditions that your horse may experience, it is important that your veterinarian be contacted initially so that he or she can assess your horse for any underlying medical condition that could be causing similar symptoms.