What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Swelling on Back or Topline


Swelling of the back or top-line is an uncommon finding, since it is a well-protected area and not often injured. Direct trauma to the back and top-line is most commonly caused by other horses. Occasionally, a horse will run under something such as a branch or fence, and injure itself in this location.

Saddle fit problems can also result in swelling and pain in this area. Exercise induced muscle problems (Tying up) often show up in the lumbar muscles of the loin and the gluteal region of the hip. The severity of these problems range widely, and can all result in swelling.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If the swelling is large, painful or growing rapidly.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) in the resting horse indicate fever (Temp >101F/38.3C) or heart rate greater than 48 BPM.
  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.
    • If the swelling is mild or moderate, and not increasing rapidly.

your role


What To Do

Assess your horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), and gently press on the area. Does it seem painful? Position the horse as symmetrically as possible and compare left versus right side of the back. Do you still see a difference in swelling on left and right sides? (Subtle postural shifts can make dramatic changes to the feel and appearance of the back.) Is the swelling on one side or both? Share your findings and concerns with your vet.

your vet's role

Vets use physical examination and other diagnostics to determine the significance and cause of swellings here. Ultrasound can be useful for visualizing soft tissue structures. Radiography is helpful for visualizing the spine in some cases.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Does the horse react in pain when pressure is put on the area?
  • Does there seem to be heat in the area?
  • Is the swelling only found on one side (asymmetrical), or is it similar on both sides?
  • When was the horse last ridden?
  • How is your horse moving?
  • Do you notice hair loss or other evidence of direct trauma?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Treatments Your Vet May Recommend

A way to resolve the condition or diagnosis. Resolving the underlying cause or treating the signs of disease (symptomatic treatment)

Very Common
more treatments

further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP