Keeping Horses in the Game
Navigating Lameness Prevention and Treatment
Our responsibility with horses is to keep them healthy and sound. Horses are incredible athletes, and we ask a lot of them. It’s important that they are cared for as the elite athletes they are. Non-equestrians do not equate an equine athlete to a football player, marathon runner, or gymnast, but as horse owners we know that the same level of dedication is required to keep them in optimal health and fitness.
The goals of equine Sports Medicine are to keep horses feeling and performing at their best, to detect subtle changes and appropriately address underlying issues, and to correctly diagnose and treat injuries to get horses back to optimum health. Despite being powerful and strong animals, horses are quite fragile, as most horse owners have come to learn. One day they are competing in perfect form, the next they might walk out of their stall lame. Thus begins the process of addressing the issue and determining a treatment plan.
Lameness can manifest itself in different ways, from subtle decreases in performance to severe and obvious signs of pain. Lameness, however, is not a diagnosis or disease; it’s the symptom of an underlying issue, which Palm Beach Equine Clinic veterinarians specializing in Sports Medicine are skilled at diagnosing and treating. Pinpointing the underlying issue is a crucial step in proper rehabilitation.
Prior to rehabilitation comes the constant practice of proactive prevention. Understandably, it is important to do what we can to prevent serious incidents such as falling, missteps, and accidents with other horses. Key to preventative efforts is detecting signs of lameness as early as possible so underlying issues do not exacerbate or cause longer-term lameness. Prevention techniques combined with proper training and rest, high-quality nutrition, and correct and balanced farrier work, help reduce normal wear-and-tear injuries.
Keys to Catching Lameness Early
Early recognition of the signs of lameness may help prevent more serious injuries from occurring that could shorten a performance horse’s career. Having a firm understanding of what your horse’s “normal” is will be crucial to identifying subtle changes in behaviors, movement, or body conditions:
- Do a daily hands-on leg check, comparing opposite legs to detect heat, swelling, or sensitivity
- Watch for shortened strides, decreased performance, reduced stamina, changes in attitude
- Give the horse a few days off if you suspect a problem; if the signs return when they go back to work, ask your veterinarian to examine them
- Remember that a mild problem can blossom into a career limiting condition if left untreated
Schedule routine performance evaluations by your veterinarian. A thorough evaluation will often consist of:
- History from rider/trainer, covering the how, what, when, and why of the perceived lameness
- Physical examination and limb palpation to detect swelling or soreness
- Lameness or motion examination, both in hand and under tack, to see how the horse moves and may be compensating
- Flexion testing to narrow down the problem area
- Diagnostic analgesia (a.k.a. nerve blocks) to pinpoint the specific area causing pain
- Isolation and confirmation of the problem area
- Imaging – Radiograph (X-Ray), Ultrasound, Nuclear Scintigraphy (Bone Scan), Magnetic Resonance Imagining (MRI), Computed Tomography (CT) – to diagnose underlying issues
- Specific identification of the lameness or performance problem
Though preventative care is crucial, we cannot avoid all injuries. Therefore, it is important to work with your veterinarian to develop the best treatment plan before an injury occurs. There are traditional treatment methods such as conservative treatment (rest, ice, compression), medical management (NSAIDS, steroids), intra-articular medication (joint injections), soft tissue (self-derived biologic therapies such as stem cells or pro-stride and shockwave, laser, and ultrasound), and as a last resort, surgery.
Palm Beach Equine Clinic also offers comprehensive Alternative Therapy options for when traditional sports medicine is not your choice. Veterinarians create treatment and rehabilitation programs using traditional and non-traditional therapies, laser, therapeutic ultrasound, acupuncture and Chinese medicine, and shockwave therapy. Palm Beach Equine Clinic can help advise when an alternative method may be the appropriate or adjunct treatment.
There are many non-intuitive causes of lameness that horsemen alone cannot diagnose without the watchful eye of an experienced Sport Horse Veterinarian. At Palm Beach Equine Clinic, the goal is to get horses “back in the game” and keep them safe throughout their athletic careers. PBEC veterinarians know how frustrating injuries can be for horse owners who have personally dedicated years of constant effort and resources to the maintenance of high caliber sport horses. PBEC veterinarians strive to be a part of each winning team’s successes and have been committed to delivering comprehensive care. Contact your Palm Beach Equine Clinic veterinarian today to make sure your horse is in their optimum health.