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What are Inferior Check Desmitis?

Inferior check desmitis (ICD) is thought to impact older horses due to age related degeneration of their ligaments. Therefore, this condition is found more often in horses as they age. The condition can mimic many other leg injuries and may be difficult to differentiate from other leg, foot, and shoulder injuries in your horse. 

The injuries are typically going to be found in your horse’s front limbs as they are the legs that are more susceptible to overextension. These injuries are often overlooked and come from twisting or pivoting too much.

Inferior check desmitis (ICD) is an inflammation of the accessory ligament of the deep digital flexor tendon. This condition is typically found in horses that are older and it often goes unnoticed. This condition may or may not cause symptoms that are noticeable in your horse.

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Symptoms of Inferior Check Desmitis in Horses

  • Swelling – There may be a noticeable area of swelling along your horse’s legs, this can be felt via an examination of his legs; this swelling may or may not cause him pain
  • Lameness – As the injury worsens you may notice your horse develop lameness to some degree; this lameness will worsen over time as the injury gets worse and if it is not treated
  • Fluid buildup – As the injury gets worse and your horse develops a true tear to his ligaments, there is a possibility of his developing edema at the site of the injury. 

It is important to remember this is an injury in which none, some, or all of these symptoms may present to varying degrees. It is suggested that should you notice any concerns with your horse’s legs, you obtain the opinion of a veterinarian immediately to avoid any further injury or trouble.

Causes of Inferior Check Desmitis in Horses

While there is not a specific cause for this injury, there are certain risk factors that may make your horse more susceptible to developing it. Certain activities can also increase the risk of your horse developing this injury. 

  • Adult and aging horses are more likely to develop this injury; this is thought to be due to degenerative aging causing an increase in injury probability
  • Overextension of his front limbs can cause this injury
  • Pivoting on his front legs can also cause these injuries
  • Overlooking the initial injury – These injuries go unnoticed for periods of time allowing them to worsen before they are caught

Diagnosis of Inferior Check Desmitis in Horses

The diagnosing of this injury must be done by a qualified equine veterinarian and there are certain things you can do to help the process. Check your horse’s legs regularly for any noticeable changes such as swelling, heat and edema (fluid buildup). If you notice these symptoms it is vital that you notify your horse’s veterinarian immediately, rather than take a wait and see approach.

The veterinarian will evaluate the gait of your horse at a walk, trot and canter. He may perform a flexion test and will carefully check the hooves for infection or injury. The vet may choose to perform an ultrasound which will confirm damage to the inferior check ligament by verifying the texture of the ligament and the presence of lesions.

Treatment of Inferior Check Desmitis in Horses

Depending on the severity of the injury, treatment may be relatively conservative such as icing, stall rest and controlled exercise. Depending on how well your horse responds to the minimally invasive treatment options, further therapy may be indicated. 

Providing him with specific light exercises will also be beneficial and your veterinarian can discuss those options with you. In the event the injury does not respond to the conservative approach or if it has worsened instead of improved, biological treatment options such as stem cells and platelet rich plasma may be considered. Shockwave therapy or surgical desmotomy of the inferior check ligament may be needed. Patience and rest are required as this type of injury may take some time to improve.

Recovery of Inferior Check Desmitis in Horses

If the damage done to your horse’s ligament is minimal, he may be up and around within 6 weeks. However, if the injury is worse it could take up to 8 months of recovery time. Prognosis is guarded for this injury and the best results come from treating it sooner rather than later. Providing your horse with rest and time to recoup will be the best means of helping him recover.