Surgically Treating 'Kissing Spines' in the Standing Horse

A kiss is typically synonymous with romance and affection. But when it's your horse's spine that's doing the kissing, it's also synonymous with pain and poor performance. "Kissing spines" is traditionally treated surgically under general anesthesia, which carries its own risks, ranging from the dangers of recovery to death. But the future of treating this condition might not be so bleak: Researchers recently confirmed that keeping the horse standing during surgery yields similar results to when the surgery is performed with the horse lying down.

In a horse with kissing spines (technically termed "impingement of the dorsal spinous processes"), the normal spaces between these uppermost processes of the horse’s vertebral column are reduced, and the subsequent bone to bone contact and disruption to the interspinous ligament between the processes cause the horse pain.

Previous research has shown that subtotal ostectomy (surgically removing part of the offending bone) is an effective treatment for affected horses. Historically surgeons have performed this procedure under general anesthesia, but recently clinicians have started performing the surgery under standing sedation—thus, removing the risks of general anesthesia. So Palle Brink, DVM, Dipl. ECVS, of the Jagersro Equine Clinic in Sweden, recently described and tested the surgical technique and evaluated that procedure's long-term outcome.

Brink and colleagues evaluated 23 horses that presented with reduced performance caused by kissing spines in the caudal thoracic vertebra (or, the area in which the saddle sits) and performed the standing surgery on each animal.

Brink was able to obtain follow-up information on 22 of the 23 horses. Of those, 19 returned to full athletic function; two showed improved performance, but did not return to full function; and one horse showed no improvement in the year following surgery. They noted no serious complications as a result of doing the procedure standing.

The study's results were similar to those seen when the procedure was done under general anesthetic, the team reported. Additionally, they noted, performing the surgery in a standing horse both significantly reduces the animal's risk for injury and complications and reduces owner costs, surgery duration, and hospitalization length.

Brink concluded that veterinarians should perform subtotal ostectomies with horses standing rather than under general anesthesia, provided the surgeon and his team are comfortable with the method.

The study, "Subtotal Ostectomy of Impinging Dorsal Spinous Processes in 23 Standing Horses," was published in Veterinary Surgery

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.