Does Pin Firing Work?

The answer to that question depends on who you talk to. We've receive inquires here at about the practice and its benefits. It's a treatment that has its proponents and opponents.

Story originally posted by: John Western Content Director

Pin firing, or thermocautery, is the application of a red-hot probe into damaged tissue, most likely a bowed or ruptured tendon. Why do more damage to an injured area? The theory is that introducing an extreme irritant into a chronic injury floods the area with an increased blood flow. The injured area is bathed with beneficial serum, which is thought to flush out the irritants, accelerating healing.

Pin firing is usually prescribed for chronic injuries, those that appear and then reappears over time. The idea is that pin firing makes a chronic injury acute – one time only – and presents the horse’s system with a fresh solution to the injury.

The surface results of pin firing are easy to see. The pin fired horse will have a random series of white dots – the exact points where the probe went in – on a its leg joint or a tendon. That’s after the surface healing is completed. The immediate results of pin firing, as can be readily imagined, is pain, inflammation and blistering, followed by rested for six months or more.

There are variations to the burn pattern. Line firing and bar firing are also used. Line firing burns the flesh in line while bar firing burns the tissue with one press of the cauterizor. Some show horse owners shy away from pin firing because of the unsightly white insertion points, which brings to mind the procedure.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners, the nation’s largest veterinarian organization, considers pin firing an acceptable means of treatment, saying it has therapeutic value for certain conditions. Pin firing is most often seen in race horses, where lower leg injuries are rampant. Vets in other equine sport disciplines pin fire horses, although it’s not seen as often now as in the past. It’s not specifically taught in vet schools as a treatment modality.

While some in the medical community stand by it, others doubt its effectiveness. And there are a few who consider it akin to medieval barbarism. They ask that if pin firing really works, why isn’t it used on human athletes?