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Mar 092013

When I first read about the Back on Track Therapeutic Infrared Blankets I understood the theory behind the technology but was not sure how well it would actually work.  What I have found that is if the blanket and sheet are used correctly they can help considerably with muscle soreness, stiffness and arthritic issues.

How Does the Back On Track Therapeutic Blanket and Mesh Sheet Work?

Back On Track Infrared blanket

The Back On Track Therapeutic Mesh Sheet will help reduce muscle pain and stiffness during warm weather.

The therapeutic blanket and mesh sheet are made with Welltex fabric which is a fabric that is infused with ceramic powder that helps reflect the horse’s infrared body heat back into the muscles. Studies and clinical trials have suggested that infrared heat penetrates deeper into the body than many other conventional forms of heat therapy.

What Is Far Infrared

Far Infrared light is produced by the sun. Do not confuse far infrared with UV rays, they are in different spectrum’s and are classified differently. Where UV light has shown to be damaging, there has not been any evidence that infrared rays are hazardous to health. Far infrared is also released in body heat. The theory of the Back on Track blankets is to trap the body heat and infrared thermal heat and help it penetrate back into the body. Sounds like science fiction? Don’t dismiss the theory. Studies conducted on people with painful joints and muscles have shown that the Welltex fabric does indeed reduce joint and muscle pain as well as help restore range of motion.  Medical studies and trials are now underway world wide testing the effects of far infrared on the bodies of animals and people. One of the most promising studies suggests that far infrared saunas help to considerably reduce the muscle pain of  fibromyalgia.

Far Infrared Effects On Horses

A small clinical trial conducted at the Strömsholm Riding School in Strömsholm Sweden, the Back On Track therapeutic blanket was put to a 6 week double blind test. Ten horses were selected that exhibited back pain. During the first 3 weeks five horses wore regular blankets and five wore the Back On Track therapeutic blanket. The horses were examined by a veterinarian and professional rider who did not know which horses wore normal blankets or which wore the therapeutic blankets. The horses were tested at a walk, trot and gallop and results were recorded. The two groups were then switched, the five who wore only normal blankets wore the therapeutic blanket and the other five wore only normal blankets, again for a 3 week duration. After the second exam, the results were compiled and showed that eight out of ten horses improved their gait at the trot, and seven out of ten at the gallop when wearing the Back On Track blankets. It was a small sampling but it produced impressive results.

Another independent study of a horse with back pain was conducted by veterinarian Laura A. Werner. Dr. Werner used thermographic imaging on an 11 year-old Irish Sport Horse used for eventing. The before theromgraph shows significant heat and swelling over the back and hip area. After two weeks of treatment with the Back On Track blanket the horse was thermographed again. The second picture showed a huge reduction in both heat and swelling.

How To Use The Back On Track Therapeutic Blanket

First, I want to stress that the therapeutic blanket is not a miracle cure. It must be used correctly and must be given time to work. If you have a horse that has suffered a recent muscle injury or is just beginning to show signs of stiffness and soreness your results will probably be noticeable faster. If you are using the blanket on an older horse or an old chronic muscle injury it will take time, sometimes up to 30 days to see a difference. Just something to keep in mind.

Back On Track strongly advises that the blanket be introduced gradually, do not take it out of the box, put it on and leave it for hours. Recent studies have shown that far infrared does affect the heart and circulatory system, namely increasing circulation. Though the results are preliminary and there have not been any published ill effects, you want to stay on the safe side.

Begin by putting the blanket on your horse for an hour a day for the first 2-3 days. Then increase that time to 2-3 hours per day for a few days.  Gradually build it up to overnight if needed. You may find in the warmer months just an hour or two a day will do what is needed. During the winter’s cold weather you may need to leave it on at night to maintain results.

From my own experiences and researching this blanket, I think it would help most competition horses tremendously if it was used for an hour or two before riding. It would give your horse a head start on the warm up. I would also recommend using it after cool down for an hour just to help your horse relax. The blanket does not overheat your horse, however it may cause sweat spots where there is heat and inflammation.

My Review Of The Back On Track Therapeutic Horse Blanket

Fleece Infrared Blanket for Horses

The Back On Track Fleece Blanket can be used at anytime to help reduce muscle pain and stiffness. It can be worn under a normal blanket during cold weather.

My experience with the Back On Track blanket has been with two horses that are massage clients.

The first is a fifteen year old quarter horse gelding who is used for team roping. Boss was ridden 6 days a week, most days just trail rides to keep him in shape. He was used in competition once or twice a week but was not used for roping practice.

Boss exhibited extreme body soreness when I first examined him. After 6 weeks of weekly treatments, he showed significant improvement but would still start off with stiffness.  Once he was warmed up with slow loping then extended trotting in the arena, his movement was normal. However, the next morning after competition he would be extremely sore and stiff.

The owner read about the therapeutic blanket and decided to try it. He started off using it an hour a day before riding. Within 3 days he noticed a difference in Boss. When I worked on Boss 10 days after he started wearing the blanket, I noticed that his muscles were not as tight and inflamed, especially over the back and the hips. The owner increased the time Boss wore the blanket to 3 hours daily. After 6 months, Boss is was moving freely at the start riding, the stiffness mostly gone. He is still a little stiff the mornings after competition, but after 3 hours wearing his blanket, his pain seems to be gone and the stiffness is not noticeable. I have noticed a definite change in his overall muscle tone, much less inflammation and rigidity.

What made me a believer in the beneficial effects of the blanket was a 24 year old thoroughbred mare named Bella. Bella was a former racehorse whose career lasted 7 years. Once retired, she was ridden by the owners on trail rides and had 5 foals. When Bella was 23, the owner asked me if a monthly massage might help with some of the stiffness and muscle pain that Bella was beginning to exhibit. I started working on Bella in July and her monthly sessions seemed to help. However, once the cold weather and wind set in, Bella started showing signs of extreme muscle and joint pain. She stayed in her stall and paddock, and started loosing weight.  A vet examination concluded that old age and arthritis were taking their toll. Not willing to part ways the owner started researching ways to help his old friend. Adaquan injections brought relief, but not enough. While researching on the Internet, the owner found the Back On Track blanket a decided to give it a try. He started Bella at 2 hours a day with the therapeutic blanket under her winter blanket gradually working her up to wearing the blanket all night within two weeks. An improvement was not seen until after a week of Bella wearing the blanket all night. During week 3, Bella started moving around more and ventured out her paddock into the pasture. Within 6 weeks, she started playing out in the pasture, and though her movements were slow and guarded she did not exhibit signs of extreme pain or stiffness. Bella will soon be 26 years old. Her face has greyed, her back is swayed and her lower legs have thickened, but Bella now happily spends her days out in the pasture with a couple of other “old girls” and has maintained her weight. She wears the fleece blanket at night during the winter and her mesh sheet at night during warm weather. I as well as her owner believe the therapeutic effects of the blanket have helped Bella maintain a good quality of life.

Granted my experience with the therapeutic blanket and mesh sheet is limited, but I do recommend it not only because of my research, but also because of the improvements I saw first hand in Boss and Bella!

Pricing and information for the Back On Track Therapeutic Fleece Blanket

Pricing and information for the Back On Track Therapeutic Mesh Sheet

Jan 292013
The Morning Fuzz – What is it?In this video, Dr. Gil Hedley talks about fascia in the human body, what it is, and how it affects movement. Fascia’s function is the same in humans and horses. If the sight of a dissected human body is not disturbing to you, I encourage you to watch this video.


(This is an article that I wrote for my human massage therapy website. Again the same principles that apply to the human body also apply to that of a horse).

Update: Dr. Hedley has revised his video to include notes about what has been discovered since this video was filmed in 2005.

Have you ever heard of fascia? I had not until I went to massage therapy school.  Understanding fascia  is an important step toward understanding muscle movement and soft tissue pain.

The Thin White Skin

Most people have cut up raw chicken or beef.  Remember that ultra thin translucent or milky white ‘skin’ that is almost impossible to pull apart?  That is a layer of fascia. Do not confuse this with fat, fat is thick and dense. Fascia is thin, almost translucent or milky white and very strong.

What is Fascia?

Fascia is a connective tissue. It connects things, it binds muscle fibers together, it separates things, and plays a crucial role in movement. Fascia wraps around everything in the body, bones, muscles, arteries, veins, and organs. It provides support for tissues and organs while also separating the individual components in our bodies.  It is like a spider web wrapping around and running through the internal body.  Through the web of fascia, everything in the body is connected. Just as you cannot move part of a spider web without affecting the whole web, you cannot move part of your body without affecting the entire fascial web.

The Saran Wrap of the Body

An analogy often used for fascia is saran wrap. Like saran wrap wraps around a sandwich, fascia wraps around muscle, tendons, ligaments and organs. It is strong but  can stretch, moving with the various body parts. Like saran wrap it can stretch to the point of tearing.  Over stretched fascia can cause binding and restriction, limiting movement of structures. Torn fascia will cause pain and inflammation.

Unlike saran wrap, fascia is wet and slippery, allowing individual parts of the body to slide against each other. It can move with various body parts or it can initiate its own movement.


The cobweb looking matter is fascia interlaced with fibers have been teased away from a muscle. An excellent visual showing that fascia is integrated throughout the musculoskeletal system.

The Gooey Gristly Mess

Fascia has been largely ignored throughout medical history. It was considered the messy, slick, tough gristly stuff that stood between doctors and the internal body. Anatomists cut it away from muscles and organs during dissections thinking it was a covering that was not important.  Thanks to the work of people like Tom Myers and  Gil Hedley, the importance of fascia’s role in the body is beginning to be recognized.

“While every anatomy lists around 600 separate muscles, it is more accurate to say that there is one muscle poured into six hundred pockets of the fascial webbing. The ‘illusion’ of separate muscles is created by the anatomist’s scalpel, dividing tissues along the planes of fascia. This reductive process should not blind us to the reality of the unifying whole.” Tom Myers from his book  Anatomy Trains

Fascia: A Missing Piece in Puzzle of Muscle Pain?

The study of fascia is ongoing and its purpose and effects on the body are not fully understood. What is known at this time:

  • If fascia is distorted it affects the function of the muscle, soft tissues and other functions within the body.
  • When fascia sustains an injury it becomes inflamed and painful e.g. plantar fasciitis.
  • During the healing process fascia can thicken, lose moisture and glue structures together which restricts movement.
  • When movement in the body is restricted soreness, stiffness and muscle compensation occurs.

Muscle pain is complex with many variables that can contribute to its cause. The ongoing study of fascia and its role in the body may provide a missing piece of the puzzle in understanding muscle and soft tissue pain and injury.

Jan 292013

Note: Stress points should not be confused with acupuncture or acupressure points as they are different systems and treatments.

What Are stress points?

Stress points are tiny micro tears in the fibers that make up a muscle.

What Causes Stress Points?

The formation of a muscle and example of a stress point.

Individual fibers are wrapped together to form a muscle bundles.Muscle bundles are then wrapped together to form a muscle. Tiny tears in muscle fibers cause the development of stress points. Stress points can be found anywhere in the muscle but are mostly found near the connection to the bone.

Injury, chronic pain due to an old injury, repetitive practice of a particular maneuver,  a slip or fall, illness such as colic or upper respiratory infections, even arthritis are a few things that can set in motion the development of stress points. Stress points can develop anytime muscles are stressed and overworked.

Can You Feel A Stress Point?

Yes. Stress points feel hard and rigid in the muscle. At times they are easy to find, feeling like a small marble or BB in the muscle. Other times they are harder to detect, feeling more like a small flat thumbtack in the tissue.  Many times these knots or bumps are located within a ridged band running along the muscle.  A horse will always react by twitching or moving away when pressure is applied to the correct spot. Stress points can develop throughout the length of the muscle, but are most often found near the ends of the muscle, where the muscle turns into tendons which connect to the bone.

What Are The Symptoms Of A Stress Point?

Acute Phase: The first indication of stress point development is localized tenderness with heat and inflammation. If just a few muscle fibers are involved the injury might not be noticed unless direct pressure is applied to the spot where the tearing occurred. The more muscle fibers that are involved the more noticeable the injury. 72 – 96 hours after the initial injury the stress point can often be felt, treated and resolved quickly.

Chronic Phase: If stress points are not treated soon after injury, these tiny muscle knots start to affect the muscle and the surrounding tissues. Other fibers in the muscle begin to tear because they are overloaded picking up the work of the previously injured and now immobile fibers. In time the muscle which was the origin of the injury begins to lose elasticity and mobility. The body begins to compensate, using other muscles in other areas of the body for movement. This sets off a chain reaction. The other muscles become overused, sore, stiffness sets in and lameness may occur. By now the area showing signs of tenderness or lameness is often far removed from the original injury.  During this time the other compensating muscles create stress points which will also require treatment.

Example: your horse gets kicked in chest while turned out with another horse. There is a small area tender to the touch but otherwise he seems fine.  Weeks to months later, the horse is suddenly off in the opposite back hindquarter. Chances are you have completely forgotten about the kick, or dismissed it because it was in the chest. However, it is quite possible that this new problem is due to overwork and strain of opposite back and hindquarter muscles caused by stress points in the chest.

How Are Stress Points Treated?

Stress points must be treated manually. The exact location must be found, pressure applied to relieve the spasm caused by torn fibers, and then friction applied to break up adhesions that were formed when the body restricts movement of the fibers in the healing process.  Once the stress point is properly treated along with other manual therapy techniques and proper exercise to restore muscle and body balance, true healing occurs.

Treating the muscle with heat, cold, laser therapy, ultra-sound therapy and medications will bring temporary relief in many cases. However, these methods address a larger area and do not specifically address stress points. These treatments sometimes relax the stress point but they do not resolve it and they do not address the adhesions.  Both the point and adhesions must be treated to restore full mobility.

Stress Points Are Undetectable In Imaging Processes

It is important to remember that stress points cannot be diagnosed through imaging processes. They do not show on X-rays (which are usually not used for diagnostic purposes for soft tissue injury), ultra-sounds or even MRIs. Why is this? During the natural movement of a muscle, ‘bumps’ occur along the muscle as the individual fibers shorten and lengthen. Stress points and the tiny knots caused by muscle restriction are as of now undetectable through imaging from the normal ‘bumps’ that occur during muscle movement. This is an oversimplified answer to a very complex mechanism, but it allows basic understanding of the process.

Find the Source To Treat the Problem

Stress points are one of the major components overlooked when dealing with a horse with undiagnosed muscle pain. It is natural to be drawn to the location of soreness and lameness and try to fix that area. However when dealing with muscular and soft tissue dysfunction it is important to remember that everything in a body is connected and works together. Always remember, the area that is sore or where lameness is evident, maybe a result, not be the source or cause of the problem. Until the original source is found and treated, the problem will continue.