Lameness is a challenging health issue for horses, particularly for sport horses. Whether the problem is a simple foot abscess, a stress injury or a subtle-but-complex case of sacro-iliac disease, the animal’s welfare is affected and its performance is compromised. As a horse owner, it’s important that you detect signs of lameness early and take action promptly.
Dr. Allossery is passionate about equine sport medicine and lameness. He strives to provide fast, accurate diagnoses of lameness and other performance-limiting equine conditions, along with timely and appropriate treatment. Our overall goal is to protect the health of your equine athlete and help it perform to the best of its abilities.
An equine lameness assessment typically consists of several stages. Initially, we observe the horse at rest to assess conformational issues. Next, we perform an equine gait analysis, often under saddle, to search for visual clues to the problem.
A thorough physical examination is then performed and, when appropriate, local anesthetic nerve or joint blocks are given to isolate the issue within a leg or legs.
Once the issue is isolated, we use advanced imaging and diagnostics (digital ultrasonography and digital radiography) to characterize the problem, determine the injured structures and quantify the injury severity.
Safe and non-invasive, these procedures provide us with a detailed view of soft tissues structures, bones and joints for a more accurate diagnosis. And because our digital imaging workstations are portable, we can conveniently perform an evaluation right at your barn. The medical information obtained through advanced diagnostic imaging is key to allowing us to formulate an optimum treatment and rehabilitation plan for the individual patient.
Digital radiography – Our modern digital radiography (x-ray) system provides excellent image quality and allows us to make an instant lameness diagnosis on farm without waiting for radiographs to be developed.
Digital ultrasound – Digital ultrasonography allows us to image tendons and ligaments that can’t be radiographed in order to assess any damage or degeneration.
If necessary, we’ll recommend that you explore more advanced imaging options, such as an MRI or nuclear scintigraphy. We have excellent relationships with regional equine hospitals that offer these specialized services.
How you can reduce the chances of lameness
Prevention is always preferable to treatment of lameness. Important lameness prevention measures you can take include ensuring that your horse isn’t overworked and that it gets appropriate training and conditioning. Proper farrier work and hoof care cannot be overemphasized. To avoid lameness due to health issues, be sure that your horse gets proper nutrition, hydration and rest.
Therapeutic joint injections
Injecting joints with a local anesthetic is a common procedure used in diagnosing lameness. If the lameness resolves after a particular joint has been medicated, then the injected joint is likely the source of the horse’s pain.
But joint injections are also used to administer drugs for therapeutic purposes during treatment of lameness.
Generally, we administer a steroid into the injured joint to reduce inflammation, helping keep the horse comfortable and pain free. As well, we may administer hyaluronic acid, a lubricating fluid, simultaneously with the steroid. This helps ease joint movement, protecting the cartilage from damage.
Though not for every horse and not without risk, therapeutic joint injections can potentially slow the progression and onset of joint disease and prolong your horse’s athletic career.
Shockwave therapy is used to treat musculoskeletal disorders in horses, both soft tissue and bone. This therapy makes use of pressure waves that pass through the targeted tissue much like an earthquake passes through the earth.
We generally administer it after the horse has been mildly sedated. The effects of shockwave therapy include increased blood flow in the affected region and reduced pain.
Shockwave therapy is widely used in equine sport medicine and can be effective in treating equine lameness. When applied in combination with rest and a sound rehabilitation schedule, shockwave therapy has been found to improve and speed recovery and return to previous performance levels. Lameness conditions commonly treated with shockwave therapy include:
- Bowed tendons
- Splints (bony lower leg swellings)
- Navicular syndrome
- Strain of the top of the suspensory ligament
- Bone spavin (osteoarthritis of the hock)
- Foot pain
There are many disorders that affect the airway of a horse, thereby limiting performance. Signs to look for include nasal discharge, noisy breathing and poor performance.
Upper airway endoscopy
This minimally invasive diagnostic procedure involves capturing images of upper respiratory tract obstructions. Specifically, we pass a fibreoptic endoscope into the upper airway of your horse to directly visualize the structures within the nasal cavities, pharynx and trachea.
These detailed images help us identify the problem and determine the best treatment plan.
Using our mobile endoscopy unit, we’re able to provide this advanced diagnostic procedure conveniently right on your farm. Typical performance-limiting conditions that we diagnose include:
- Laryngeal paresis/paralysis
- Dorsal displacement of the soft palate
- Epiglottic entrapment
- Guttural pouch disease