Sweeney Shoulder

It is so helpful to understand the anatomy underneath the skin, as it affects your horse’s life every second of every day. Injuries in any area of the body can cause immediate issues, or in some cases issues that surface long after from the horse exhausting their compensation abilities.

The injury that is discussed in this article is Sweeney Shoulder. This condition is caused by damage to the suprascapular nerve, which runs along the scapula in the shoulder and is responsible for controlling the shoulder muscles and bringing the leg forward. The nerve can be damaged upon impact (example a kick from another horse), from instant damage (example, a rotational fall), or from long term damage due to ill fitting tack or harnesses. Without proper nerve function, the muscles along the shoulder blade cannot function correctly. The muscles degenerate, and the horse is unable to move its leg properly.

Sweeney Shoulder is a condition I have worked on much more in the last two years. Some of the horses I worked on had this condition from unknown causes, others gained the condition by some of the following: a known kick to the shoulder, stepping into a hole from a fence post, a rotational fall, or rough play in the paddock. Some horses were diagnosed right away by their vet. Other horses presented to their vet with a lameness that wasn’t immediately able to be diagnosed, and then the muscle atrophied before a diagnosis could be made.
Traditionally, this condition was thought to be caused by draft horses working in ill fitting harnesses, and was coined its name in Sweeden, particularly with Belgian horses.
Belgian In Harness
More research is being revealed as to the best ways to rehabilitate this condition, combining both vet care with a team of practitioners that can provide body work and physiotherapy programs, however it is still a vague area with much more to be discovered and understood. One thing is agreed upon though, the faster it is diagnosed, the better chances there are to gaining improvements.
One of the biggest issues with sweeney Shoulder is that it affects the horse’s proprioception of the affected shoulder – meaning it affects how the brain and nervous system communicate to help the horse feel where their body parts are, both in motion and while standing still. If the injury is severe, or left for a prolonged time without treatment, it can result in an abnormal gait which can lead to other compensation issues or secondary problems in other areas of the body.
Some commonly used modalities that seem to be helping this condition improve include massage, chiro, equibow, PEMF, accupuncture, and kinesiology taping. Of course, a vet should be consulted before any of these therapies are introduced to the horse’s program.
In addition to massage therapy programs, I have found success with a vet’s permission to begin the horse on a “physiotherapy” program. We focus on low-impact exercises that require a horse to properly place their feet such as series of pole grids, with some raised poles to encourage elevation of the shoulder (starting very low and raising the height as the horse progresses), stepping on and off low platforms (such as skid-height bridges), etc.
Even doing this at a walk for frequent short workouts can make a big difference in keeping the muscle from wasting as well as retaining proprioception, as the horse is at a controlled enough speed with easy enough obstacles to focus on hoof placement and proper motion.

Symptoms may include:
Inflammation of the shoulder
Horse is reluctant to move
Popping sound when horse attempts to walk
The scapula becomes more visible
Hollowing surrounding the spine of the scapula
The shoulder joint appears loose
Horse swings shoulder
Abnormal gait
Inability to extend the shoulder

Read more at: https://wagwalking.com/horse/condition/suprascapular-neuropathy-sweeney-shoulder

If you suspect a shoulder injury in your horse, certainly contact your vet to assess your horse and give further recommendations. When you are rehabilitating an injury, remember that a method that may work for some horses may not work for others, and it’s important to track your progress so you can change game plans as needed. To learn how to best track your horse’s progress, see this article here: 5 Ways to Track Your Horse’s Progress.


*Any content presented by this article is written for informative purposes and is not meant to replace veterinary care and veterinary advice*