What are Arthroscopy for Equine Lameness?
Arthroscopic examination started out as a diagnostic tool in the beginning, but it was quickly determined that arthroscopy could be just as helpful (if not more so) in treating large animal joints because of its sensitive and effective ability to work in tight spaces. Of course, it can only be done successfully if your horse is under general anesthesia to restrict movement. Since the arthroscope is able to diagnose as well as treat your horse, it is especially helpful with situations of lameness. This is a minimally invasive technique that is safe for horses of all ages and sizes. In the 1990s, arthroscopy became the most often used tool in treating joint disease and it is still the most effective way to detect joint disease in horses.
Arthroscopy is the preferred way to perform any kind of joint surgery in horses and is also an excellent tool for diagnosing joint diseases. This type of surgery is used for many things such as flushing and debriding septic synovial cavities, repairing cartilage, injecting or debriding subchondral cysts, repairing fractures, debriding damaged ligaments, and removing bone and cartilage fragments. It is also a valuable way to evaluate synovial membranes, menisci, cartilage, and ligaments. Arthroscopy is used in conjunction with MRI, CT scans, and ultrasounds to see the details in the procedure area.
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Symptoms of Arthroscopy for Equine Lameness in Horses
Arthroscopy has been being used for diagnosis and treatment for almost one hundred years in humans and started being used on horses almost 50 years ago. There are many symptoms that can be treated with arthroscopy. Some of the most common ones include:
- Swelling of the leg or joint
- Warmness and redness of joint
- Persistent limping
- Pain when flexing or manipulating the leg
- Fluid retention in the joint or leg
- Limited movement
- Decreased range of motion
Arthroscopic surgery in horses is used for specific treatments as well, which are:
- Chip fractures (osteochondral fragments)
- Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD)
- Osteochondrosis (OD)
- Developmental orthopedic disease (DOD)
- Degenerative joint disease (arthritis)
Causes of Arthroscopy for Equine Lameness in Horses
Some of the benefits and possible complications of arthroscopy are:
- Less invasive so there are less complications
- Better view of area
- Decreased chance of infection
- Faster recovery rate
- No damage to surrounding tissue
- Lavage treatment through the arthroscope
- Better success rates
Possible Complications (very rare)
- Anesthesia reactions
- Equipment malfunction
- Blood clots
- Nerve or arterial damage
Diagnosis of Arthroscopy for Equine Lameness in Horses
Before performing an arthroscopy, the veterinarian will need to get your horse’s medical history, including vaccination records, illnesses, injuries, dietary habits, and any recent abnormal behavior. A complete and thorough physical examination of your pet comes next, which should include weight, body temperature, blood pressure, pulse, respiration rate, lameness check, and body condition score (numerical grade depending on weight). In addition, a quick exam of your pet’s skin, teeth, eyes, ears, and nose will be done.
The veterinarian will also have your horse walk around a bit to see muscle and joint function and look for any limping or other clues to what is going on. Also, digital radiographic imaging (x-rays), CT scans, ultrasound, and an MRI are performed to check for underlying health issues that can produce complications during surgery. Finally, the veterinarian will need to do some diagnostic tests such as a complete blood count (CBC), serum biochemical analysis, bacterial and fungal culture.
Treatment of Arthroscopy for Equine Lameness in Horses
The veterinarian will be able to give you a recommendation on whether arthroscopy is the right choice for whatever joint disease or injury your horse has. Almost all cases of lameness are able to benefit from arthroscopic surgery along with a medication called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDS) and physical therapy. In order to treat your horse, general anesthesia is needed to limit movement.
The first thing the veterinarian will do is use the arthroscope to view the affected joints. The arthroscope is a long flexible scope that can be manipulated into the area that needs work. A camera and bright light on the end of the scope send real-time video to a large video screen where the veterinarian can see what is going on. Also, tools can be inserted into the scope that the veterinarian will use to perform whatever treatment is needed. There will be three tiny incisions for the scope and two instruments to be inserted and used simultaneously. Saline solution is used to flush the area after surgery and the scope and instruments are removed.
Recovery of Arthroscopy for Equine Lameness in Horses
Most horses do not have any pain or discomfort after surgery and will be ready to get up and go as soon as the anesthesia wears off. One or two small stitches may be used to close the incisions afterward and your veterinarian will send you home with a prescription for NSAIDS and antibiotics.