It may still be a relatively new, cool concept for the human body, yet cryotherapy appears to be catching the eye of the animal world too.

With an ever-growing reputation around the world, this health enhancing cryogenic treatment has a great deal to offer the human body. Now it seems, the equine world could be reaping the benefits too.

Reports in the equine community are suggesting that horse enthusiasts could relieve their beloved animals of pain and potentially, save their lives from what could be a fatal condition.

Feeling the burn
Many of us will not be familiar with the condition Laminitis, an extremely painful ailment of the foot suffered by horses and even capable of causing our equine friends to be permanently lame.

Occurring in either acute or chronic form, Laminitis is essentially the inflammation or disturbance of the interlocking layers of laminae connecting tissues in a horse’s foot – causing a tear of the pedal bone away from the hoof wall. A subsequent cascade of events can incur incredibly painful or severe consequences, with a rapid onset and often characterised by hooves that are hot to the touch.

As the horse attempts to relieve weight from the affected limb, an awkward new stance may be adopted, while other signs include an unwillingness to lift either front feet off the ground. Perhaps the most striking indication is an acute heat in the feet and a pronounced increase in digital pulses.

Gorging on an excessive amount of soluble carbohydrates such as pasture or grain is thought to be a possible cause, while obese or overweight horses that take little exercise are believed to be particularly vulnerable.

For a condition that can quickly escalate to a severe level, a rapid response is required.

A number of anti-toxic drugs can be administered to relieve pain and provide an initial recovery, while special horse shoes can also be used to support the affected foot. Laminitis is a condition that has been recognised for centuries however, with modern day science and veterinary care still struggling to perform treatment and prevention. Until now.

Cooling down
Recent clinical trials have studied the use of cryotherapy as a method of cooling the hooves down, keeping them cool and ultimately, combating the Laminitis condition.

Two factors in these clinical trials are thought to have emerged as crucial to the success of the method, notably early intervention and the duration of the treatment.

Whereas in humans, liquid nitrogen-consuming cryotherapy is seen as almost a supplementary treatment to aide the immune system or recovery from injury, in horses the technique could prove to be much more pivotal.

Chris Pollitt, Head of the Australian Equine Laminitis Research Unit at the University of Queensland, recently shared his thoughts on the subject in Puerto Rico at the fourth annual Promoting Excellence Symposium of the Florida Association of Equine Practitioners (FAEP).

He believes that an at-risk horse should undergo cryotherapy as soon as possible and definitely before the clinical signs of Laminitis take shape, if the treatment is to be effective.

Future demand
So can we expect to see a widespread use of cryotherapy, and in turn industrial gas, in the equine world in future?

Trials have demonstrated the treatment to be effective in preventing permanent damage, while horses have also been capable of tolerating cryotherapy over sustained periods.

However there are those individuals that remain unconvinced regarding the merits of cryotherapy in humans, let alone on horses.

In a similar fashion, questions still remain over the effectiveness of cryotherapy and whether this can slow or even halt the damage caused by Laminitis – but the potential exists nonetheless.