Several orthopedic ailments can occur in horses, but tendons are particularly vulnerable to strain and damage. Tendon injuries cause pain and make it difficult to work, and they also have high re-injury rates with re-injury rates as high as 82 percent. Today, our Santa Clarita vets discuss tendon injuries in horses and how to recognize them.
Tendons are the elastic strap-like structures that connect muscles to the bones on which they work. Most tendons are very short and rarely injured, but the long tendons of the limbs are susceptible to injury during activity or as a result of trauma. Flexor tendons, the most important of which are listed here, are particularly prone to damage.
What Are the First Signs of a Tendon Injury in Horses?
Tendon damage generates inflammation, heat, and swelling, which can result in lameness. If the tendon ruptures, the horse may walk with his or her toes pointed up. In the event of serious damage, the limb may become extremely painful and swollen, and the horse may become severely lame.
Flexor tendons are made up of lengthy, organized bundles of fibers. A fluid-filled sheath surrounds the knee and hock, as well as the fetlock and pastern region. Several strong, short annular ligaments help to keep the tendons in place in areas of significant movements, such as joints.
How Are Tendon Injuries Diagnosed?
A thorough musculoskeletal and lameness examination will typically assist the veterinarian in determining which soft tissue structures are implicated. Your veterinarian will search for the thickness of the afflicted tendon(s), heat, soreness on probing, and other symptoms. It is difficult to precisely estimate the level of damage by looking and palpating. If the damaged structure(s) is above the hoof capsule, an ultrasound scan will let your veterinarian see pictures of your horse's tendon injury.
Are There Different Types of Tendon Injuries?
Strenuous activity can cause fiber tearing, especially in unfit horses. Even fit horses who overstretch their tendons in fast work, on uneven ground, or while leaping at high speeds can harm these structures. The severity of the damage can range from small (little fiber damage) to severe (complete tendon rupture).
Most commonly, a fraction of fibers are destroyed in a restricted location within the tendon known as a zone; this may form a distinct hole of varied length.
A tendon injury can cause minor bruising or serious damage that leads to tendon rupture. Sharp trauma that cuts through the skin can cause mild tendon damage to full or partial thickness laceration. If a tendon sheath is involved, this might lead to a potentially fatal infection if not treated swiftly.
What Treatments Options are Available for Tendon Injuries?
Most tendon injuries necessitate at least three months of limited exercise (e.g., walking in hand or on a horse walker). Repeat tendon scans are invaluable for monitoring recovery before increasing exercise levels. Many horses need a year to recover before they can compete again. Rest is essential. Note that turning a horse out into a pasture does not allow it to relax its tendon.
Following a period of rest, your horse should be put to a progressively increasing exercise routine that should finally include trotting and extremely steady cantering. Although they may not be able to compete at the same level as before the injury, most horses can live a productive life as a hack or light performance horse after a tendon injury.
Stem cells obtained and processed from the horse's bone marrow are being studied for use in repairing injured tendons. The preliminary findings are positive, but more time is needed before substantial conclusions can be formed.