What Are Kissing Spines In Horses?

Last Updated on March 13, 2022 by Cristina

Kissing spines in horses is a common problem that affects many equine athletes. Let’s take a look at this painful condition and find out everything we need to know!

What Are Kissing Spines In Horses?

Kissing spines in horses occur when the vertebrae of the spine are too close together, and the uppermost parts rub together or overlap. Each vertebra of the spine is joined to the next, and they move against each other as the horse moves. In a horse with kissing spines, the top part of each vertebra – the dorsal spinous processes – presses against the same part of the next vertebrae.

There are two levels of severity of kissing spines in horses. The first of these is called impinging dorsal spinous processes, where the bones are touching. The more severe type is when the bones overlap each other, called overriding dorsal spinal processes.

The most commonplace for kissing spines to occur is the thoracic vertebrae, which are located on the saddle area of the horse.

Kissing Spines In Horses

How Are Kissing Spines In Horses Diagnosed?

If a horse has kissing spines, these will be clearly evident on a radiograph. However, your veterinarian will need to do additional tests to ensure that the kissing spines are causing pain, as some horses live happily with kissing spines without any evident pain at all.

Other tests include injection of local anesthetic into the area where kissing spines have been identified. If this resolves the symptoms, then it is likely that the kissing spines are causing pain to the horse. Thermography may also be used to identify areas of heat and inflammation.

In more complex cases, your veterinarian may recommend bone scans and ultrasonography. It may be necessary for the horse to be referred to a specialist hospital for further diagnostic tests and treatment.

How Are Kissing Spines In Horses Treated?

The treatment for kissing spines will depend on the severity of the symptoms and the extent to which the dorsal spinous processes are overlapping. Mild cases might be managed with non-surgical treatment, while more severe cases will require surgical intervention.

Surgical Treatments For Kissing Spines In Horses

In recent years, there have been huge developments in the methods for treating kissing spines in horses. Traditionally, the process involved removing some of the bone at the top of each dorsal spinous process. This was a highly invasive and painful procedure, with a long recovery time.

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The less invasive option is to cut one or more of the interspinous ligaments between the affected vertebrae. This relieves tension and pressure on the vertebrae. This is a faster and less invasive procedure, with a shorter recovery time.

Although surgical treatment of kissing spines normally leads to good results, it should not be undertaken lightly. Any surgery on the spine has the potential to destabilize the back and can lead to future lameness problems.

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Non-Surgical Treatments For Kissing Spines In Horses

If the symptoms of kissing spines are relatively mild, or the spinous processes are not impinging by a great deal, it can be possible to keep the horse comfortable and able to work.

The aim of non-surgical treatments is to ease the pain and aid relaxation of the muscles around the spine. Your veterinarian may recommend anti-inflammatory injections around the area of the kissing spines, corticosteroid injections in the gaps between the vertebrae, and shockwave therapy to reduce pain and promote healing.

Physical therapy is also very important in horses with kissing spines. The aim is to encourage the horse to move more freely, stabilising his posture and improving mobility. This will strengthen and stretch his back and abdominal muscles.

Daily exercises may include working over poles and cavaletti on the lunge or using a Pessoa training system. Water treadmills can also be beneficial, as can chiropractic and acupuncture treatments. It is important that the saddle fit is assessed and adjusted to relieve pressure points on the horse’s back.

Any physical training therapy should always be implemented after discussion with your veterinarian. Kissing spines can be very painful for the horse, and it may be necessary for the horse to have a period of rest following medical treatment. Ridden work should be avoided during the treatment phase unless advised otherwise by your veterinarian.


So, as we have learned, kissing spines in horses occur when the vertebrae of the spine are too close together, and the uppermost parts rub together or overlap. In some horses, this can cause pain along the spine, but others show no symptoms at all. Surgical treatment of kissing spines often results in a successful recovery and a full return to ridden exercise for the horse.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on kissing spines in horses! Have you ever owned a horse with this painful condition? Or perhaps you’ve come across an innovative new treatment for kissing spines in horses? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!


What Causes Kissing Spines In Horses?

Veterinarians and researchers are still unsure as to the exact cause of kissing spines in horses, but it is thought that they are linked to the conformation of the horse and the way that the body develops. Some breeds of horse, such as Thoroughbreds, have a higher incidence of kissing spines.

What Are The Symptoms Of Kissing Spine In A Horse?

A horse with mild kissing spines may not show any symptoms. Those with more pronounced kissing spines can show a wide variation of clinical signs, such as subtle lameness, head tossing, hypersensitivity around the spine, and poor performance.

Should A Horse With Kissing Spine Be Ridden?

Some horses with kissing spines do not show any symptoms, and can be ridden without any problems. However, if your horse is showing any sign of pain or discomfort, he should not be ridden. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you on the best exercise regime for your horse.

Can A Horse Recover Fully From Kissing Spines Surgery?

Most horse return to ridden work following kissing spines surgery, although some cannot work at the same level as previously. The prognosis is improved if an appropriate exercise rehabilitation programme is undertaken.