What are Fractures of the Distal Tarsal Bones?
While a tarsal bone fracture is not an emergency, it is still a serious condition that should be addressed as soon as possible. When your horse becomes lame, you may suspect a hoof abscess or foot puncture when in reality he actually has a fractured bone. This is why it is important you consult with your veterinarian for a definitive diagnosis. Bone images will need to be taken at a large animal clinic, and once properly diagnosed, treatment can begin. It is your decision as the owner if you want to pursue surgical correction or conservative correction. The type of fracture your horse has will directly affect his prognosis of recovery.
Tarsal bone fractures can occur after your horse suffers a traumatic injury or from constant stress to the bone that causes it to finally break. Either way, you should consult with your veterinarian immediately in order to begin the proper therapy for recovery.
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Symptoms of Fractures of the Distal Tarsal Bones in Horses
Symptoms can vary depending on the type of fracture your horse suffers. Symptoms may include
- Associated wound
Bones can fracture in different ways and angles. The shape in which it breaks determines its ‘type’. There are five different types of fractures that can occur. A comminuted fracture is when the bone shatters in the three or more pieces. A transverse fracture has a horizontal fracture line straight across the bone while an oblique fracture breaks in an angled pattern. An open or compound fracture involves breaking of the skin, either from the bone puncturing through after it breaks or from the external blow itself. With this type of fracture, you may or may not see the bone when examining the wound. A stable fracture happens when the bone breaks but the broken ends align and are barely out of place.
Causes of Fractures of the Distal Tarsal Bones in Horses
Fractures in your horse are commonly caused by direct trauma, such as being kicked by another horse, or from accidental self harm. An awkward kick, bad fall or even a misstep can lead to a fracture. Fractures of the tarsal bones are commonly seen in racehorses. This is due to constant intense, pounding pressure on their limbs as they run.
Diagnosis of Fractures of the Distal Tarsal Bones in Horses
When performing her physical exam, the veterinarian may try the hock flexion test. In cases of fractures, lameness becomes more pronounced with hock flexion. If the veterinarian applies this test on your horse and his lameness worsens, it is a good indication of possible fracture. She may also do various nerve blocks in order to determine where the lameness is originating.
She will want to take radiographs of the area to check for suspected fractures. There are many different angles she can take an image from, but sometimes it still cannot show the perfect angle. In these cases, a CT or bone scintigraphy are the best forms of imaging you can utilize to determine if your horse has a bone fracture or not. These will require you to go to a specific hospital to have the imaging done, but it may be worth it to determine exactly what your horse is suffering from.
Fractures may not be visible for 7-14 days after injury when the fracture line bone resorption has occurred.
Treatment of Fractures of the Distal Tarsal Bones in Horses
Surgical correction can be an option for some cases. A lag screw fixation is one type of procedure that can help with certain fractures but not others. The surgery has its own list of risks, including making your horse’s lameness worse due to postoperative complications or improper screw placement.
You can choose to treat the fracture conservatively. Anti-inflammatory and pain medications with the combination of a splint may be used in the conservative method. Physical therapy, rest, and changes to your horse’s working lifestyle will also help in his recovery process.
Both methods may have a good success rate. Surgical correction typically leads to quicker recovery, but conservative treatment has also had large amounts of success. It will all depend on the type of fracture your horse suffered from, and how important it is that he gets back to his job as soon as possible.
Recovery of Fractures of the Distal Tarsal Bones in Horses
The type of fracture your horse has will determine his prognosis. Also, the location of the fracture on the tarsal bones will play a role in recovery. His recovery process is very important to his healing so it cannot be rushed. Many owners want to get their horses back to work as quickly as they can, but if you do not let it heal properly, he may never recover completely. Follow the instructions of the surgeon and the veterinarian, keeping in regular contact as the healing takes place.