What is Curb?
The long plantar ligament is a band of tough tissue that is located behind and along the length of the hock. The long plantar ligament helps to stabilize the hock. Curb is a swelling or enlargement of this tissue that is generally caused by an injury, such as a sprain or strain of the ligament from work or exercise activities which can be exacerbated by a conformational abnormality of the hock.
Curb in horses is defined as injury to the soft tissue behind the hock. It is a collection of injuries rather than one specific injury and this collection of injuries usually involves the long plantar ligament.
Symptoms of Curb in Horses
Curb is a type of lameness and, accordingly, the symptoms you will note in your horse will be similar to any lameness:
- Lameness - may vary in intensity or be non-existent and may vary with movement and speed
- Pain demonstrated by various behaviors - may also vary in intensity
- Visual observation of swelling of the plantar ligament
- Visual observation of enlarged or denser tissues noted at the site of or around the plantar ligament
- Since the same type of swelling that occurs with curb can also be caused by other soft tissue injuries, the above symptoms may vary from severe to non-existent depending on the tissue involved
Curb is a condition that is only one of several that make up disorders of the tarsus in horses. While curb is generally an enlargement of the long plantar ligament, there are other tissues that can become inflamed, resulting in similar swelling in the same general area of the hock:
- Bog spavin and bone spavin - Disorders that involve inflammation that are resultant of injuries to various components of the hock
- Peritendinous-periligamentous inflammation - Fluid or fibrous tissue gathering along the plantar hock area
- Superficial or deep digital flexor tendonitis - Inflammation of associated tissue located along the plantar ligament
- Any combination of these
Causes of Curb in Horses
Curb is considered, for the most part, to be a condition that predominantly affects race horses, Standardbreds primarily, and some of the conformational abnormalities that are germane to this breed seem to predispose them to injuries sustained in racing and jumping activities. These injuries usually consist of strains or sprains of the soft tissue mentioned above with the possibility fractures also present.
Diagnosis of Curb in Horses
Diagnosis of this condition, similar to the methods used to diagnose swollen and painful areas in the human body, usually requires a physical examination of your horse by your equine veterinarian to determine possible areas of concern. He will likely also need radiograph or x-ray imaging as well as ultrasonography to identify the actual affected tissue as well as to ascertain if any fractures are present. Once the affected tissue and any root cause, if not the result of an injury, is determined, a treatment plan can be developed and implemented.
Treatment of Curb in Horses
The treatment of curb, just like one would expect, is similar to that of any other sprain. Therapy will include plenty of rest, ice pack application to reduce the swelling of the limb utilized three to four times a day for about 30 minutes at a time, and perhaps a wrap of some sort to help reduce the swelling during the periods between the ice applications. Your veterinary professional will likely have you alternate between heat and cold for a couple of days as is the standard sprain treatment, after which he will likely then begin oral therapy of anti-inflammatory medications and topical anti-inflammatory ointments to help reduce swelling and pain. There may even be injections of hyaluronic acid into the tissues surrounding the ligament to also aid in reduction of swelling and discomfort.
Recovery of Curb in Horses
Once the swelling and pain have been addressed, your veterinarian will likely develop an exercise schedule that is carefully controlled. This exercise schedule will likely follow a period of time, perhaps long term, that your horse will be required to rest to allow its body to repair and heal the injury. Slow return to normal activities should be the general plan of action to attempt to avoid future injury to your horse. The important thing to remember in this treatment is to be patient.
Just like strains and sprains that we humans experience which take weeks and sometimes months to fully resolve, these types of injuries to our horses are no different. You have an investment in your horse, both financially and perhaps emotionally, and if you rush the treatment regimen, permanent damage may occur, resulting in the horse’s decline in performance and usefulness.