What are Collateral Ligament Injuries?
Connecting the femur to the tibia, the medial collateral ligament, also known as MCL is extremely important to any horse’s exercising and walking abilities. The collateral ligament on the outer part of the leg, known as the lateral collateral ligament, or LCL, is equally important as it connects the fibula and the femur together.
Ligaments and tendons are extremely strong and flexible, and are similar to one large cord made up of smaller cords throughout. When the MCL or LCL is overstressed, some of the inner cords can stretch too much or tear. The result is inflammation and pain, sometimes very severe depending on the amount of the tear. Although there are treatments for injuries to the collateral ligaments of horses, the one treatment that is the most important is time. Time, accompanied by rest, will give your horse’s body the best chance of healing itself.
Typically, trauma which forces the horse’s distal limb is responsible for any damage to either of the collateral ligaments. A horse with damage to either collateral ligament will respond by atypical movements when walking or exercising, and in severe cases may suffer from lameness.
Collateral ligament injuries in horses are the results of forced wear and tear of the collateral ligament, thus rupturing or spraining the lateral or medial ligament of the horses’ distal limbs.
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Symptoms of Collateral Ligament Injuries in Horses
Horses that are quite active are often at risk for spraining or straining a collateral ligament. Symptoms of collateral ligament injuries and horses include:
- Difficulty walking properly
- Swelling around the area
- Inability to bear down on the leg or hoof
There are several different types of ligament and tendon injuries that horse owners should be aware of. Other types of these sometimes debilitating and serious injuries are:
- Superficial digital flexor tendon injury
- Deep digital flexor tendon injury
- Suspensory desmitis
Types of other injuries to the collateral ligaments are similar, and are known as differential diagnoses. Other similar injuries are:
- Enthesiopathy of the collateral ligaments of the lateral tarsal
- Bone fractures of the tarsal
- Joint luxation of the tarsal
Causes of Collateral Ligament Injuries in Horses
There are several different risk factors for horses to develop an injury to the collateral ligaments. Over stressing is the main cause. Other causes include:
- Working on uneven ground
- Blunt trauma
- Twisting of the ligament
- Over working the horse
Diagnosis of Collateral Ligament Injuries in Horses
If your horse is showing symptoms of a leg injury, make an appointment with your equine veterinarian. The veterinarian will begin by assessing the ligament in the area surrounding the affected ligament. He will be looking for pain on contact and swelling. He will then perform a few maneuvers with this area of your horse, such as flexion testing and taking a closer look at the joints by having your horse walk and stand. He will carefully observe his gait in the amount of resentment to any flexion or manipulative testing.
Your veterinarian may perform radiographs of the largest joint, known as the stifle. This is equivalent to the knee of the human. He will be looking for a widening of the joint on the side that is causing the pain. He may also choose to perform scintigraphy, which is a type of imaging technique that is non-invasive. This imaging method will detect any skeletal malformations. In order to come to a conclusive diagnosis, your veterinarian will perform an ultrasound, which will show detailed evidence of any ligament injury your horse may have.
Treatment of Collateral Ligament Injuries in Horses
Treatment is dependent upon the type and severity of the injury your horse is suffering from. Treatment methods may consist of:
Anti-inflammatory medications may be given for up to eight weeks. Anti-inflammatory medications will be prescribed by your equine veterinarian in specific doses relative to your horse’s weight and injury type.
Coupled with the anti-inflammatory medications, your horse will need a lot of rest. This cannot be underestimated. Your horse may require months of rest before he gradually returns to a routine of exercise and that will need to be done very gradually in order for him to recover.
Your horse will need to be watched while on the medication, especially if his condition results in lameness. If your horse becomes lame, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Recovery of Collateral Ligament Injuries in Horses
Recovery of collateral ligament injuries can be a trying time for the horse and owner. Patience is a key element in proper recovery. Depending on how severe your companion’s injury is will determine his prognosis. It can take at least 6 months for recovery. Unfortunately, if your horse is lame, your veterinarian will discuss options with you on his future. Severe lameness may result in euthanasia.
If your horse’s collateral ligament has been completely torn or ruptured, there is a less chance of recovery. With proper treatment, it is possible that the horse can recover; however, he will only be able to do very little work.
It will be important to trust your veterinarian; however, it may be also necessary to seek a second opinion in life-threatening situations. Always follow the advice of your veterinarian, or therapist if you have one, and be sure your horse continues to rest.