What is Desmitis of the Collateral Ligaments of the Leg?
The collateral ligaments are the ligaments that provide stability to the joints. When these ligaments become damaged, either through acute physical trauma or through repetitive stress, they often become inflamed and swollen. This swelling and of the ligaments is referred to medically as desmitis and can cause lameness in the affected horse. Desmitis, and the underlying damage to the ligament, often take several weeks to months of restricted exercise to heal, even after more advanced treatments.
Desmitis is the medical term for when the ligaments become inflamed and swollen. The joints of the legs are a common location for horses to experience inflammation.
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Symptoms of Desmitis of the Collateral Ligaments of the Leg in Horses
The symptoms of desmitis inducing ligament damage in the leg are essentially the same symptoms and signs you would see with any horse suffering from lameness.
- Behavior changes
- Generalized limping
- Inability to put weight on the limb
- Poor performance
- Reluctance to stand
When the injured ligament is affecting the front legs, the horse will often lift its head higher when stepping on the distressed limb, and drop it when putting the weight on the sound limb. When a hind leg or foot is involved the disorder will be most apparent when viewing the horse from behind. When the horse walks, it will lift its hip on the lame side to avoid putting as much weight on it and will allow the other side to dip a little bit to compensate.
- Collateral ligaments of the elbow - Surgical remedies in the elbow joint often result in bulky scars and can be easily re-injured.
- Collateral ligaments of the knee - There are several collateral ligaments within the structure of the knee joint that can be damaged
- Collateral ligaments of the stifle - The ligaments that connect the bones of the stifle are more likely to be injured by horses that regularly participate in athletics that involve jumping and leaping
- Collateral ligaments of the tarsus - Ligaments that bond the tarsus bones are a part of the joint commonly known as the hock joint; the hock joint is the most common area to receive stress related injuries, including injuries to the ligaments
Causes of Desmitis of the Collateral Ligaments of the Leg in Horses
Damage to the ligaments can be a complicated issue. Although the ligaments can be damaged by a single traumatic event, it is even more widespread for damage to be due to repetitive stress to the joint. This can be due to the horse’s occupation and daily activities and is often exacerbated by poor confirmation in the animal’s limbs.
Diagnosis of Desmitis of the Collateral Ligaments of the Leg in Horses
When dealing with a leg pain in a horse, the diagnosis has two primary goals. The first goal is to determine from which part of the leg the pain or weakness is originating. The second goal is to identify what the underlying cause is so that an appropriate treatment plan can be selected. Diagnosis will usually start with a complete physical, with particular attention being paid to the legs and feet. A full history of the animal, including its activity levels, diet, and living conditions, may help determine the cause of the injury or weakness as well.
A lameness exam will generally be conducted by the examining veterinarian as well, to evaluate the animal moving at different gaits. A complete blood count and biochemical profile will help establish if any infections are present, and a lactic acid test may either confirm or rule out laminitis, a disorder that can have severe consequences if untreated. Tendons and ligaments do not show up on x-rays, but the swelling and any underlying injuries are often found using alternative imaging techniques, such as ultrasound, MRI, and scintigraphy.
Treatment of Desmitis of the Collateral Ligaments of the Leg in Horses
Rest and hand walking are standard recommendations for lame horses, regardless of the underlying cause, and are used to reduce the load on the leg that is affected so that healing can take place. NSAID pain management medication is also frequently employed to reduce the inflammation and pain. It is essential only to use NSAID drugs as directed as they can become toxic at higher doses. Lameness can often be helped by proper shoeing.
With ligament damage, this can mean choosing a differentially wide shoe to better support the injured side, providing the horse with specialized hospital shoes that cover the bottom of the foot and are designed to quickly open, giving ready access to caregivers, or even creating shoes specifically for that horse, used most often for horses with limb deformities or abnormalities. Advanced therapies such as shockwave therapy, platelet-rich plasma, and stem cell therapy have been found to be quite useful in healing damage to ligaments, and antibiotic or antifungal treatments will most likely be prescribed if any infection is uncovered during testing.
Recovery of Desmitis of the Collateral Ligaments of the Leg in Horses
In most cases restricted exercise will be required for full healing, particularly if the treatment is focused on any part of the joint, such as ligaments. If your horse needs equine surgery, you will be given specific instructions from your veterinarian regarding post surgery care for your horse. In most cases, stall confinement will be necessary for a short time to facilitate healing and regrowth. This can be a difficult transition for many animals, and depending on the temperament of the horse, sedation may be needed to keep the animal tranquil during this healing period. Once they are allowed out of their stall for exercise, they may require close supervision or hand-walking until they are suitably restored.