What are Flexural Deformities?
Flexural deformities in horses, also known as contracted tendons, are the overextension of joints. The hyperflexion or hyperextension of joints, namely an abnormal limb within the sagittal plane of the foal, the name contracted tendon is not accurate, as it is not a tendon issue, but a joint issue. The limb of the horse has a displaced appearance and is out of place within the vertical alignment of the horse’s body and stance. This deformity in foals can be either acquired or congenital. If congenital, it is present at the time of birthing, and if acquired, it develops after birth from another cause. Acquired flexural deformities typically develop within 4 weeks to 4 months after birth. Some foals develop acquired flexural deformities at one year of age.
The joints affected the most are the fetlock and carpus, and oftentimes the coffin joint is affected as well. The most common joint affected in a foal with flexural deformities is the fetlock and the carpus. In some cases, as the foal begins to walk, these deformities may regain normality on their own; in other cases where the deformities are not working themselves to normal a veterinarian needs to be seen.
Flexural deformities in horses is a result of the joint being overextended, either by hyperflexion or hyperextension of the specific joint. This condition occurs in foals, either at birth or shortly after.
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Symptoms of Flexural Deformities in Horses
Symptoms of flexural deformities in horses are quite evident and noticeable by the owner and veterinarian. By looking at the outwardly symptoms, the veterinarian is able to come to a diagnosis rather quickly. Symptoms include:
- Foal standing on toe
- Limbs unable to stay extended normally
- Pain in the affected joint
- Withdrawal reflex of the flexion
- Altered stance
- Clubbed foot-like appearance
- Knuckling of the leg at the fetlock joint
- Abnormal walk or gait
- Difficulty standing
Flexural deformities present themselves in a variety of types in both congenital and acquired. Types of flexural deformities include:
- Digital hyperextension (congenital)
- Ruptured common digital extensor tendon(congenital)
- Carpal deformities(congenital)
- Deformities of the foot and fetlock(congenital)
- Flexural deformity of the distal coffin joint (acquired)
- Deformity of the fetlock joint (acquired)
Causes of Flexural Deformities in Horses
There are many causes of flexural deformities in horses. Both types, congenital and acquired, have a variety of causes. Causes include:
- Influenza or other conditions while in gestation
- The position of the foal in utero
- Teratogenic agents
- Sudan grass or locoweed ingestion of the mare
- Developmental diseases
- Orthopedic conditions
- Mineral imbalance
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Prolonged weight-bearing positions
- Arthritis (infectious)
- Rapid bone growth
Diagnosis of Flexural Deformities in Horses
If your horse has any symptoms of flexural deformities, make an appointment with your equine veterinarian. Your veterinarian will take a closer look at the affected area by first checking to see your horse’s ability to stand on his own. He will straighten the area manually and then look to see if the foal needs assistance in standing on his own.
The veterinarian will manipulate the joints to see if he can straighten them and perform several movement techniques with the foal to assess the situation. He will also ask many questions pertaining to the causes of congenital or acquired flexural deformities, such as about the history of health of the foal’s dam and sire, any birthing issues (if the flexural deformity is congenital), his diet to check for any imbalances in nutrition, recent trauma, and other questions about the foal’s history that may help the veterinarian understand the cause of his deformity.
A diagnosis of flexural deformities typically is made when the veterinarian manipulates the affected area of the joint. The veterinarian may then perform a radiography, although this is not necessary for a diagnosis of flexural deformities. However, even though it is not required, radiography may be useful in identifying any abnormal joint and muscle conditions that can change the horse’s prognosis in terms of treatment and outcome.
Treatment of Flexural Deformities in Horses
Many factors can result in flexural deformities in horses. Once your veterinarian diagnoses your horse’s deformity and comes to a conclusion of the cause, treatment methods may include:
Applications to Affected Joint
There are specific applications your veterinarian may choose to do in order to help your foal heal. Heel extensions that are temporarily worn by your horse may help his muscle tone and tendon improve. He may also suggest applying a splint to help stabilize this area and allow it to heal.
Medications such as oxytetracycline may be given to your foal for any foot and fetlock deformities. Your veterinarian may choose to give him an intravenous solution of this medication at the amount of 3gm to begin with, and then perhaps a second dosage.
Your veterinarian may suggest dietary changes or adjustments for your horse. If your horse is still nursing, appropriate changes will need to be focused on the mother. Elimination of creep feeding (supplemental feeding )should be considered as well. The veterinarian may also suggest for you to control any amount of exercise while at pasture.
A check ligament desmotomy may be considered for severe cases of flexural deformities. This type of surgery can be very successful. It works by reducing any restraint that is typically put upon the digital flexor tendon by the ligament. Once surgery is complete, correction of the flexural deformity is observed in most cases.
Recovery of Flexural Deformities in Horses
After surgery, your veterinarian will suggest limiting exercise for at least three weeks. This includes any walking. Your veterinarian will give you instructions on how to care for the surgery site and how to change the bandages.
With other treatments, correction of your horse’s flexural deformity may take some time, depending on the severity of his condition. Your veterinarian will communicate with you your foal’s prognosis and any action you need to take in order to help him recover. If your horse is experiencing pain, your veterinarian will prescribe an analgesic after surgery. He may also suggest frequent elevation of the toe of the hoof, and if he is wearing a heel extension or a splint, he will give instruction on how to continuously care for him while these are in place.
Once your foal has recovered, he will be able to be ridden for pleasure, as long as it is not for long periods of time. This depends on your horse’s response to any treatment or aftercare given. There is a chance of relapse, and if this occurs, be sure to contact your veterinarian. Relapse tends to occur more often in foal’s that did not receive the surgery. If relapse does occur, and the condition becomes a chronic one, surgery may need to be performed.