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What are Muscle Strain and Soreness?

Strains that cause soreness can happen to a muscle, or a group of muscles, in various locations of the body. Often, an accident or strenuous exercise can damage leg, adductor or groin muscles, while a badly fitted saddle can affect back muscles. While some symptoms are mild, others can be as severe as trembling when faced with a painful situation, or lameness.

A muscle strain is often due to an injury or an overworked muscle that can swell, tear, and become a source of pain. Often, performance issues, or a reluctance to be ridden or exercised, are clear signs that your horse is experiencing discomfort and needs attention. Noticing subtle changes in your horse’s behavior can help to diagnose a muscle strain early, and prevent further damage.

Muscle Strain and Soreness Average Cost

From 323 quotes ranging from $1,000 - $8,000

Average Cost

$4,000

Symptoms of Muscle Strain and Soreness in Horses

Signs of a muscle strain involve pain and changes in attitude or performance, and can vary depending on which muscles are affected. Symptoms can include:

  • Poor or altered performance
  • Discomfort
  • Pain upon palpation
  • Swelling
  • Lameness
  • Tender areas
  • Lump or gap in muscle
  • Muscle tightness
  • Muscle spasm
  • Loss of condition
  • Weakness
  • Trembling
  • Attitude changes
  • Lacerations or bruises 
  • Dragging hind feet
  • Forceful tail movements
  • Stiff tail
  • Grinding teeth
  • Jumping refusals or changes
  • Changes in gait
  • Poor gait
  • Abnormal back and pelvis movements
  • Abnormalities under the saddle
  • Shorter strides
  • Refusal to be mounted
  • Sinking when mounted or saddled
  • Reluctance to canter or trot
  • Elevated breathing rate
  • Sweating
  • Reluctance to move

Types

Muscle strain can be divided into four categories.

  • Traumatic injuries

    – These kinds of muscle injuries occur from a direct impact, and can include accidents such as running into another horse, hitting rails during a race or while jumping, or falling down; injection site myopathy is also considered a traumatic injury, and involves a vaccine or intramuscular injection that causes the injection site to swell

  • Performance and stress injuries

    – These occur through overuse of a muscle, or group of muscles, and include back pain, isolated muscle strain, and chronic strains

  • Exertional rhabdomyolysis

    – Also referred to as tying-up, it is the breakdown of muscle cells due to exercise

  • Muscle wasting

    – This is a secondary condition of the loss of muscle mass caused by an illness or disease. Some diseases that can result in muscle wasting include Cushing's disease, equine degenerative myelopathy, and equine protozoal myeloencephalitis, as well as conditions of the liver, kidney, or gastrointestinal tract; nerve damage can also be a factor

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Causes of Muscle Strain and Soreness in Horses

Causes of sore muscles in horses include:

  • Injury or damage to muscles
  • Accidents causing direct impact to horse
  • Overuse of muscle or muscle group
  • Repetitive or strenuous exercise or movement
  • Ridden exercise
  • Tack or saddle that does not fit properly
  • Poor condition
  • Fatigue
  • Poorly executed jumping
  • Chronic leg lameness
  • Damage caused by an uneven rider
  • Injection site myopathy
  • Sports activities
  • Kissing spines, or the rubbing together of vertebrae
  • Illness or disease causing secondary muscle damage
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Diagnosis of Muscle Strain and Soreness in Horses

Diagnosis of muscle strain in horses can be complicated, due to the fact that many of its symptoms are similar to other conditions. Also, some muscles, such as the groin or adductor muscles, are difficult to isolate in a diagnosis. Your veterinarian will need a complete history, including any injuries or symptoms you have seen. A complete physical exam will include palpating different muscle groups to look for areas of pain, assessing muscle symmetry, and evaluating the range of motion of the legs and neck. Your horse may be observed walking, trotting, jumping, or performing certain movements. A lameness exam may also be used to rule out other diseases.

Blood and serum testing can check for muscle enzyme levels, and help to rule out other conditions. Various imaging techniques are used to locate injuries and muscle issues, as well as to see the extent of the damage in order to create an appropriate treatment plan. These can include nuclear scintigraphy, or a bone scan, X-rays, ultrasounds, and thermography. An adductor stress test can be performed to further locate specific muscle injuries. Further testing may be needed if a primary disease or illness is suspected to be causing the muscle strain.

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Treatment of Muscle Strain and Soreness in Horses

The goal of treatment for muscle strains and soreness attempts to relieve the pain and provide therapies that can help your horse heal, and will depend on the severity of your horse’s condition. Most muscle injuries are treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatories to relieve pain, and alternating cold and hot compresses on injured muscles. In cases of trauma, wounds are treated appropriately. Muscle relaxants can also be effective to relieve pain, as well as local anti-inflammatory injections. Some alternative therapies that may be suggested include massage therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic adjustment, magnetic blankets, or extracorporeal shock wave therapy.

Next, box rest is often prescribed for several weeks, along with physiotherapy. This consists of a gradually increasing exercise plan that needs to be monitored by your veterinarian, as a return to activity too soon can cause a re-injury. Ultrasonography can be used to assess your horse’s progress during treatment. 

If your horse suffers from back pain, the saddle fit may be evaluated and adjusted. Surgical treatment may be recommended in some cases, such as with kissing spines. Any underlying condition needs to be addressed and will be treated appropriately.

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Recovery of Muscle Strain and Soreness in Horses

Recovery in cases of mild to moderate muscle strains is good, while severe cases can take longer to heal and may result in muscle scarring. Your veterinarian may send home pain medications, and a treatment plan for rest and exercise. A visit for an ultrasound to check on your horse’s progress may be scheduled in 3 months.

Prevent muscle injuries with regular exercise, a properly fitting saddle, sitting balanced when riding, keeping your horse healthy with a consistent feeding program, and avoid performance demands that are beyond your horse’s abilities.

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Muscle Strain and Soreness Average Cost

From 323 quotes ranging from $1,000 - $8,000

Average Cost

$4,000

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Muscle Strain and Soreness Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Thoroughbred

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Six Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Soreness When Walking

We went on a long trail ride last Sunday (20 miles) my horse has been limping since o. Her two front legs. I packed with magic hoof and wrapped for 24 hrs. As of this morning she’s still limping. She’s eating and drinking perfect

Sept. 25, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. I hope that your pet is okay. If they are still having any problems, It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get any testing or treatment taken care of that might be needed.

Oct. 20, 2020

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Gilbert

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Arabian

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13 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Soreness

My 13 year old gelding has recently started giving me attitude while riding him. Walks and trots beautifully, but now he doesn't like to canter on his left lead (it has never been a problem before). I let him rest for 1 1/2 weeks thinking he was sore from working him. I noticed yesterday when I was lunging him that he seems to be keeping his back legs close to each other, and every time he would canter on the left lead he would only do so for maybe 4 strides then switch to his right then start cross centering. I'm so confused and worried he may have an issue with his back end. Any ideas that could be causing this would be greatly appreciated.

Aug. 22, 2018

Gilbert's Owner

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0 Recommendations

With these types of orthopaedic issues, it is difficult to say what the specific cause is without personally examining the horse; it would be best to call out your Veterinarian for a thorough examination and observation walking, trotting etc… as they will be able to give you a better idea. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 22, 2018

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Capri

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Appendix

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26 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Muscle Tremors
Limping
Restlessness
Dragging Leg

We have suspicion that my mare fell trying to run with the younger horses in the pasture and slipped on the wet mud. Originally we thought she dislocated the shoulder but it’s starting to look more like a strained or pulled muscle in the right front shoulder. She’s standing on it now but cannot walk correctly she drags the hoof around and lips on the leg. The muscle now has spasms when she locks the knee into place to stand on it. I was recommended 2 weeks stall rest and if it doesn’t show improvement then euthanasia is the only option. Just wanting more opinions. Thank you for your time.

July 30, 2018

Capri's Owner

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0 Recommendations

Without examining Capri I cannot really weigh in on this condition but if the tow is dragging it may be a brachial plexus or radial nerve injury (check the Fig. 8 in the link) but I cannot tell for certain; stall rest is best but it really it a waiting game to see if there are any signs of improvement which may take months or may not occur at all. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.gutenberg.org/files/16370/16370-h/16370-h.htm#Radial_Paralysis

July 30, 2018

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Jewel

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Paint

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18 Years

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Tripping
Front Soreness
Doesn’T Like Being Caught
Turns In Wide Circles

How would one go about helping front soreness in a mare? I’ve been giving her bute-less which helps for a little while and I have many creams I apply almost daily because I’m worried about her. She’s only 18. If she gets too sore she won’t move at all.

June 7, 2018

Jewel's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

The treatment for Jewel depends on the reason for her soreness, and without seeing her, I have a hard time determine what that might be. It would be a good idea to have her examined by your veterinarian to see what might be going on, if she needs x-rays, or what treatment might help her.

June 8, 2018

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Cinnamon

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American Quarter horse

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15 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Lame In Her Back Leg

Hello, my horses name is cinnamon. In November/ December she was in a pasture at her barn and did not want to be caught. She reared up and afterwards was favoring her back left leg. It had heat so we got a vet out. Long story short after xrays, it's a strained muscle, she's 15, and after a few months we started to ride again. I noticed it's not getting better, so we put a hault to all riding, and will be talking to our vet. He said it can take from 2 to 9 months. My question is, is it possoble I caused permanent damage?

May 12, 2018

Cinnamon's Owner


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recommendation-ribbon

1 Recommendations

There is always a risk of causing permanent damage to a lame horse if you’re riding it, recovery times should be respected with moderate lead rope walking and restricted movements (unless advised differently by your Veterinarian). You should either call your Veterinarian out or make the trip to visit them to determine the extent of the injury. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

May 12, 2018

My horse is a 9 year old paint. He has been limping for a few weeks now. He shows no signs of having any pain but will limp badly. There is no heat and no swelling. I ride him around in a circle for about 30 minutes walking and trotting. He isn't getting anybetter. Can I take him trail riding. He only limps when trotting. We have been loping for a while lately and that's why I think it might be a pulled muscle. Someone please help.

May 22, 2018

Alexia R.


So for a while I was always loping my horse around through fields. One morning before a horse show I warmed him up loping him through an old harvested cornfield. When we went to the horse show I had him walk/trot/lope in the arena and after we got out he started limping. I tired him to the trailer and it looked like he had swelling. Later I checked on him at the end of the horse show and the swelling had already gone down. It has been a few weeks and he is still limping. I always clean his feet and put ligament gel on his leg and walk and trot him out 1 a day. It seems like nothing it working. My mom thinks it's because he stepped on a corn stalk wrong but he never tripped pr slowed down in the cornfield. I am not sure what I should do and what is causing him to keep limping. If someone could please tell me what to do. Mom doesn't want to spend money to take him to the vet.

May 22, 2018

Alexia R.

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Max

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irish sports horse

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13 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Lame Trot
Sore Shoulder

My horse is sore when walking on his front right leg. When pressure is applied to different areas, he only reacts when pressure is on his right shoulder. Nothing is hot or swollen and he is only lame when in trot, his walk is still good. What can i do to help him heal?

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Van

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Off the Track Thoroughbred

dog-age-icon

15 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Stiffness
Limping
Lameness
Pulled And Swollen Shoulder Muscle

I just recently rescued an ottb who came from a neglect situation. He was a previous show jumper and dressage competitor. Anyways he hasn't been ridden in 5 years. The first 2 rides went well but we were doing a lesson the 3rd time and on our way out to the arena he was approached by the dominant gelding. My ottb gelding started pawing/kicking out with his front right leg/hoof. After that I got on him and I realized he was walking funny and had a limping motion. We felt to knots/bumps on his shoulder muscle and he looks very lame and looks like he pulled a shoulder muscle. What should I do? How long will this take too heal, and when can I start back riding/conditioning him? He barely walks like this and is very stiff and uncomfortable looking when walking/trotting while lame and with the pulled muscle. Any suggestions of what else to be treating him with/ giving him?

Muscle Strain and Soreness Average Cost

From 323 quotes ranging from $1,000 - $8,000

Average Cost

$4,000

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