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A Study of Balms

Balms have been around since the dawn of time; some are purchased from an equine supply catalog while others are mixed by the trainer; some provide heat to an area while others offer a soothing cool.
These balms may be referred to as liniments, rubs, paints, or rubefacients. Human as well as equine athletes use them. Yet it is rare to find a trainer or human athlete who truly understands what they do.

Generally speaking, a balm is nothing more than an analgesic that is applied to one area of the body. It does not matte if the product comes in a jar, tube, or baggy, if it is applied to the skin so as to reduce pain it is an analgesic balm. Some horse trainers will apply balms to an animal before it works, and then tightness is applied after the exercise is over. Others will apply a poultice before the animal is wrapped for the evening. Yet do you know how to really choose the proper balm for your horse?

Like nutritional supplementation, the use of balms will require you to do your homework to gain a greater understanding of how ingredients work together to achieve their effects. First and foremost, you will need to understand that an analgesic balm falls into one of two groups: counterirritants and rubefacients. Counterirritants work by stimulating a specific area of the body thus drawing bodily functions to deal with the irritant rather than the pain that is occurring; additionally, the rubbing motion helps to stimulate the muscles and also tendons, thus providing relaxation and decrease of pain. Rubefacients, such as liniments, work by applying heat or coolness to an area of the body that then will respond via relaxation.

Other rubefacients work in slightly different ways. Take for example the tighteners that seek to take fluid away from the joint capsule by having the compound rubbed into the affected area and then having the spot compressed with a wrap. It is unsure if the compound is to thank for the positive effect or if it is the combination of massage and compression. Then there are the sweats that seek to produce a collection of wetness on the skin itself. To accomplish this goal, the moisture is taking from the tissue underneath the area that is being treated. This will effectively reduce the swelling of legs. Add a plastic sheet to the treated area to enhance the effect as well as an anti-inflammatory to the sweat, and the result will be very positive. Braces are the term used for drugs that are high in alcohol to facilitate the shedding of fluid from the body tissues. The use of these compounds is somewhat questionable, since massage and wrapping can achieve better results.

Opposite the rubefacients are the counterirritants, such as blisters. Because of the skin irritation that these paints and pastes provide, superficial skin damage is oftentimes seen. As a result, ligaments will tighten. Yet because of the rest associated with this treatment, it has become obvious that it is the rest that is achieving the results, and not so much the use of the blisters themselves. Poultices on the other hand are used to remove inflaming agents by drawing out the substances from the tendons and also ligaments that are causing the infection.

Yet perhaps most important is the fact that no amount of balm and anointing can make up for an improper or shortened warm up. As a matter of fact, do not fall into the trap of seeking to heal afterward that which could have been easily prevented in the first place. If you do decide on a balm, make sure you understand how it works and how to apply it correctly.

Read the next horse health tips article on Splints.
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