What are Bowed Tendons?
Bowed tendons in horses can be a debilitating disorder to horses if not diagnosed and treated properly. Bowed tendon is a common term used by horse owners, trainers, and professionals to describe a tendon which has suffered a sort of injury. When it is not treated properly, the fibers can become torn. When they begin to heal, they do not remain in the same shape; the shape of the tendon is curved outward, like a bow. This is one of the main symptoms of bowed tendons in horses.
A tendon is often confused with a ligament, and there is a significant difference. A tendon is a strong and flexible, cord-like tissue that attaches the muscle to the bone. A ligament is a strong band of tissue that connects bones together, such as in the joints. Both are similar in that they are made of strong, dense, tissue of collagen fibers, and both are very strong and can succumb to a lot of pressure, mainly so if it is exercised often. Tendons have a massive amount of strength and are also highly elasticized when stretched. They store a great amount of energy and can exhume a great deal of power. When a horse suffers from a bowed tendon, it can be very difficult for the horse to function properly.
Bowed tendons in horses is a condition in which the tendons become torn or damaged, and then heal in a way that makes them curve outward, like a bow. This greatly affects the horse’s ability to walk and function in a normal and pain-free manner.
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Symptoms of Bowed Tendons in Horses
There are specific symptoms of bowed tendon in horses, and if your horse is showing any signs of this disorder, make an appointment with your equine veterinarian. Symptoms include:
- Inflammation of the tendon
- Pain in the area, especially when weighted upon or touched
- Walking abnormally, with a tipped-up toe
- A bowed appearance of the tendon area
There are several different types of tendon injuries in horses, in addition to the bowed tendon. Other tendon injuries in horses are:
- Puncturing the tendon
- A specific area of damaged fibers in the tendon
- Trauma to the tendon
- Degeneration of the tendon
Causes of Bowed Tendons in Horses
Causes of a bowed tendon are also very specific, and can be difficult to prevent, especially if your horse is very active. Causes include:
- Ruptured tendon
- Pulled or strained tendon
- Inability of the tendon to properly heal
- Working on unleveled land
- Overworking of the horse
Diagnosis of Bowed Tendons in Horses
A horse with a bowed tendon must be seen by an equine veterinarian in order to get diagnosed and treated. If you are unsure if your horse has a bowed tendon, but are still concerned with the way he is walking or with his leg movements, it is important to call the veterinarian in order to prevent anything from becoming more painful and worse for your horse.
The veterinarian will evaluate your horse by performing a complete examination and by checking his vital signs and asking you about his symptoms. The veterinarian will then take a closer look at the tendon or tendons to check for over-thickening of the affected area. He will check for temperature of the tendon to see if it is hotter than normal and will palpate it to check for pain.
The veterinarian will then do a scan of the tendon and the area surrounding the tendon with an ultrasound. This scan allows the veterinarian to see the precise structure of your horse’s tendon and the damage to the tendon. This ultrasound also shows the veterinarian what needs to be done to properly assess and treat the bowed tendon.
Treatment of Bowed Tendons in Horses
Treatment of the bowed tendon in your horse will depend on the severity of the original tear, strain, or damage, and then the way in which it tried to heal. Treatment methods may include:
When your horse is first diagnosed with bowed tendon, the veterinarian will recommend support therapy. He may recommend bandages that are tight (but not too tight) to give the tendon support, lots of rest, and that your horse be kept in a stall and paddock on his own. Exercise will be important, but it must be controlled. The veterinarian will recommend a therapist to keep his exercising controlled, consistent, and tailored to what he can perform. During support therapy, the veterinarian will continue to take scans to check for progress.
Anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed for your horse. Phenylbutazone is one medication that veterinarians prescribe to ease the pain and swelling. The anti-inflammatory medication will also help your horse perform better during the structured exercises. Also, the veterinarian may recommend injections to help with healing, such as plasma, stem cells, or bone marrow. The substance within the injection comes from the same horse. Other tendon injection therapies may also be suggested by your veterinarian, such as those from compounds that are organic or polysulfated glycosaminoglycan.
In cases of severe bowed tendon or in cases of reinjury, surgery may be an option. The veterinarian will talk to you about all of your options for surgical procedures; however, even with proper healing, the elasticity of the tendon will not be completely back to normal. After a successful surgery, the tendon still has a high-rate of possibility of reinjury, especially if the horse is racing or is involved in other athletic endeavors.
Recovery of Bowed Tendons in Horses
After a period of rest, the veterinarian or therapist will give you a schedule to follow for getting your horse back to normal walking and exercising. This will entail a gradual increase of activity over time. It will be very important to take it slow while your horse continues to heal.
Full recovery from a bowed tendon may be possible depending on the horse. If your horse is a racehorse or competition horse, the success rate of him returning back to work is guarded. This depends on whether your horse is young and the amount of competition activities he participates in. Healing from a bowed tendon takes time, and unfortunately, many horses will not be at the rate of speed or skill level they once were. After having a bowed tendon, the horse can continue to live a quality life, even if they must retire from training and competitive status.