At Palm Beach Equine Clinic in Wellington, FL, the team of Board-Certified surgeons are experts in minimally invasive surgical techniques, aiming to reduce joint disease, resolve lameness, and improve the longevity of sport horse careers.
Arthroscopy (or arthroscopic surgery) is a minimally invasive surgical technique that can be performed on an injured joint or synovial structure to accurately explore and treat pathology. The surgery generally involves two very small (8mm) keyhole incisions. The first incision is where the surgeon will insert the arthroscope, which is an instrument with a small surgical grade camera installed that allows a complete, clear view of the interior joint surface. The second small incision is created to insert the surgical instrument to perform the procedure.
Arthroscopy is used to treat a broad range of injuries inside of a joint. Chip fracture removal is a procedure that is particularly commonly in both young Warmblood horses with developmental disease and in racehorses travelling at high speeds. A small chip fracture can cause persistent irritation in the joint as well as arthritis if left untreated. It is best removed immediately so that no further damage is created. The surgeon can go into the joint, remove the chip, and clean up the surrounding cartilage. Most horses recovery quickly and return to their normal athletic activity.
“In many horses, we consider arthroscopy as a prophylactic measure, intervening after injury, but before the development of a generalized degenerative arthritic cycle ensues,” Dr. Davis stated. “Arthroscopy is definitely something that you want to do early in the game if you feel like the horse has joint disease, or a chip, or cartilage disease, or an undefined injury that is not responding appropriately to medical therapy. Arthroscopy can be curative for some of these horses. But if you do not intervene early on in the course of the disease and there is already advanced arthritis, then you have missed your window.
“Arthroscopy is a preferred treatment because it is minimally invasive so most horses can go right back to work,” Dr. Davis continued. “In a typical scenario, we thoroughly explore the joint with the arthroscopic camera, we remove a chip or repair a lesion, and the horse is not lame after the surgery. Because of the small incisions, there is minimal aftercare and horses are often able to go back to work quickly.”
Other common indications for arthroscopic surgery are meniscal disease in the stifle, subchondral cystic lesions, primary cartilage lesions, and debridement of damaged tendinous/ligamentous tissue (such as deep digital flexor tendon tears in the navicular bursa). The surgeons at Palm Beach Equine Clinic can perform arthroscopy on virtually any joint in the horse. Anything from the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) of the head to the navicular bursa within the hoof capsule can be explored and treated with this minimally invasive approach.
Almost all arthroscopies are performed under general anesthesia with the horse on its back. New renovations at Palm Beach Equine Clinic include a set of stocks of adjustable height adjacent to a surgeon’s pit, allowing the surgeons to have eye-level access to the joint they are working on, enabling many new procedures on the legs of standing horses.
Minimally invasive surgery allows for a simple and quick recovery for the horse. The traditional horse would be on stall rest with a bandage on until the sutures come out at two weeks, and then start doing some light hand walking and physical therapy. Barring severe damage in the joint or associated tendon/ligament disruption, most cases will undergo a six-week rest and rehabilitation protocol, then return to normal work.
As always, the advanced diagnostic imaging at Palm Beach Equine Clinic permits the surgeons to get a complete evaluation of an injury involving a joint to ensure the best possible outcome. Depending on the injury type, digital radiographs, ultrasound, MRI, and Nuclear Scintigraphy, or a combination thereof, may be used for pre-operative diagnosis and planning. Ultrasound and digital radiography are available for intra-operative use. Intra-operative CT scanning will also be available in the future with the new additions at Palm Beach Equine Clinic.
“When you are inside the joint with an arthroscopic camera, you have the most complete picture of the surface and health of that joint,” Dr. Davis noted.