Lameness In Horses: A Brief Overview

We see lame horses every day of the week. Some cases are easier to diagnose e.g. foot abscesses are very common or those presenting with heat or swelling however others are more complicated and require further investigation

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We see lame horses every day of the week. Some cases are easier to diagnose e.g. foot abscesses are very common or those presenting with heat or swelling however others are more complicated and require further investigation such as nerve or joint blocks and x-rays or scans. Those cases we generally see at the clinic as they are worked up over the course of a day.

Lameness Investigation Facilities

We have excellent facilities for lameness investigation at the practice. These facilities include:

A flat hard surface – the trot up at the practice is perfectly flat and smooth and importantly it is very resonant. This is important as uneven surface can adversely make lameness look worse. Having a resonant surface is useful as some of the more performance limiting lameness’ are very subtle and sometime s you can hear the difference in the footfall.

An indoor and outdoor school so we can see horses safely lunged and ridden if appropriate; we also have jumps if there are performance limiting issues with jumping. There is some lameness that are more evident on a soft surface such as some soft tissues injuries.

There is a safe hard lunge surface. Lameness scan be exacerbated on a hard lunge surface making it easier to detect. We don’t excessively lunge the horses on the hard surface but it has an excellent combination of being flat and firm but not slippery.

We have excellent ultrasound and x-ray facilities at the practice. Generally, we are x-raying to look at bony structures and ultrasound to look at soft tissues structures such as ligaments, tendons or muscle, although sometimes it can be used to look at the edges of bone.

There are a wide range of treatment options available at the practice from shockwave to surgery and intra articular medication to stem cell therapy

And last but most importantly have a highly skilled trained nursing team who assist with case management from everything to prepping for nerve and joint blocks to acquiring x-rays when appropriate. They also treat the horse like they are their own and make sure the horses feel and home and get slipped the odd treat when they think we aren’t looking.

Types Of Lameness We Commonly See

At this time of the year there are lots of horses presenting for lameness as it the middle of the competition season. Some of the common causes of lameness that we tend to see include (in no specific order):

  • Foot Abscesses
  • Laminitis we see very commonly when weather patterns change and symptoms are highly variable from mild soreness on the turn to barely being able to stand or move.
  • Traumatic injuries are common both form competing and from the field
  • Foot pain covers many types of lameness ranging from pedal bone fractures (which often do well with rest and shoeing) through to mild issues with foot imbalance to severe injuries and damage to the navicular bone and surrounding structures
  • Stifle issues such as injuries from competing, especially eventing or damage to the joint itself.
  • Suspensory ligament desmitis; there are many sub conditions within this and prognosis is variable depending on position and which limb
  • Tendon injuries often present as mild lameness (even in relatively severe injuries) – if you have any doubt about a swelling in the tendon reasons get it scanned. This can prevent a mild injury becoming a permanently debilitating injury
  • Check ligament injuries are often seen in coemption horses as a mild form and as degenerative issue n older horses.
  • Hock pain can be variable in location and prognosis and treatment depends on which area is affected and how severely
  • Back pain usually present as a primary condition however sometimes can cause hindleg lameness (and hindleg lameness often cause back pain)

This list is very far from exhaustive however key points to consider are:

  • Lameness investigation can be complex and involve a diagnosis involving more than one limb or area.
  • There is a huge plethora of treatments, both medical and surgical. We have a highly experienced team led by Jacqui and myself who will advise you on what is the most appropriate for your horse.
  • We always want to work with the paraprofessionals you work with including farriers, physiotherapist, instructors and saddlers. We believe in a multifactorial approach to lameness case management and aim to combine the best of all of our skills to optimise outcomes.
  • Foot pain is very common and often can be very subtle to start with. Having foot balance x-rays can help ensure your farrier with trimming and shoeing and minimise some of the risk factors for foot lameness.
  • If your horse has a lameness workup we will go through the x-rays and scans with you and discuss your options. We know this can be a challenging time so if you have more questions or don’t understand don’t worry about asking us to go through things again or differently. We are here to help and all questions are valid and will be explained.

Symptoms Of Lameness

Symptoms that may indicate your horse has a lameness issue

  • Heat or swelling on the limbs
  • Head nod
  • Holding the head and neck out on the lunge
  • Asymmetry of hindleg gait
  • Difficult transitions
  • Objections to work
  • Bucking
  • Resentment of saddle
  • Changes in performance e.g. hitting jumps or stopping

If you have any queries about lameness in horse please give us a call on 01332 294929– we are always happy to talk through questions with you

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