What is Strains and Sprains ?
Strains and sprains can occur in any muscle, and are often due to an injury, or an overworked or overextended muscle. Many strains and sprains occur in the legs, groin or adductor muscles. Strain can even occur in back muscles due to issues with the saddle or riding techniques. While symptoms can vary from mild to severe, you should seek veterinary care immediately if you see signs of swelling, heat, and lameness, as the injury can become more severe if not treated properly.
Sprains and strains result when muscles, tendons, ligaments, or the joint structures swell, tear, or rupture. These injuries become a source of pain, and can result in performance issues, a reluctance to bear weight or be ridden, and lameness. A strain is generally less severe than a sprain, but both lead to discomfort and a reduction in activity for your horse.
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Symptoms of Strains and Sprains in Horses
Symptoms of a strain or sprain can vary depending on the muscle that has been damaged. Often, symptoms are pain related, and can include:
- Decreased level of performance
- Pain upon palpation of injured area
- Heat and swelling
- Lameness in the first 1 to 2 days of injury
- Tender areas
- Muscle stiffness
- Lacerations or bruises over injured muscles
- Grinding teeth
- Refusal to jump or be ridden
- Changes in gait
- Reluctance to move
Causes of Strains and Sprains in Horses
Causes of sprains and strains in horses can affect the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joint structures in your horse, and can include:
- Direct injury to muscles and associated tissues
- Accidents causing damage
- Overworked muscles and surrounding tissues and joints
- Repetitive or strenuous exercise or movement
- Overextension of muscles or joints
Diagnosis of Strains and Sprains in Horses
Diagnosis of a strain or sprain begins with clinical signs. Let your veterinarian know of any history of injury or accidents that may have contributed to the symptoms seen in your horse. Your veterinarian will perform a physical exam, and palpate specific muscle groups to locate areas of pain and injury. Usually, your veterinarian will need to watch your horse walking, trotting, or jumping. To rule out other causes of lameness, a lameness exam which generally involves a nerve block may be performed.
X-rays, ultrasounds or thermography may be used to locate specific muscle injuries, and to see if there are any concurrent bone fractures that may need attention. Other testing techniques that may be used include nuclear scintigraphy, or a bone scan, and an adductor stress test.
Treatment of Strains and Sprains in Horses
Treatment of strains and sprains in horses will aim to relieve pain, and minimize any further damage while the muscles and associated tissues heal. This is accomplished with box rest for several weeks, followed by gradually increasing exercise that should be planned with your veterinarian, and often begins with hand walking. If your horse returns to activity too soon, there is a risk of re-injuring those muscle and tissues. During the course of your horse’s recovery, ultrasounds can be used to help monitor progress.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories are used with muscle injuries to relieve pain and inflammation. Muscle relaxants and local anti-inflammatory injections can also be used to the same effect. Alternating hot and cold compresses on injured areas may be recommended. The injured tissues can be supported with the use of support bandaging while they are healing.
Tendons and ligaments tend to heal slower, and carry the risk of scar tissue which can compromise the structural integrity of those tissues. Once healed, tendons and ligaments may not be as strong as before the injury. They also tend to heal at a slower rate, and may need longer periods of rest. Any wounds or bone fractures will be treated appropriately as needed, and can include antibacterial medications, bandaging, and surgery.
Recovery of Strains and Sprains in Horses
Recovery of mild to moderate strains is good, though more severe cases can take longer. Sprains can vary more significantly in severity, and a successful recovery is dependent on the extent of the injury, the swiftness of treatment, and sufficient rest for healing to occur. At home, you may be given pain medications and anti-inflammatories to administer to your horse, as well as a rest and exercise plan devised with your veterinarian. An ultrasound may be performed in 3 months to assess your horse’s recovery.
Be aware of the symptoms of strains and sprains so that if your horse is injured, appropriate treatment can be sought in a timely manner, preventing the injury from becoming worse.
Strains and Sprains Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My mare was diagnosed with a likely adductor sprain or strain. She was non weight bearing the first day. After about 24 hrs and some bute, she was bearing weight, but clearly sore. Much more swelling on day 2 and 3. What is the average recovery time for this injury? We really don't know how it occurred. She was in her stall.... so either cast or slipped upon rising.
Thank you so much for your insight. Much appreciated.
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What should I do?I don't think he could be hauled to the vet and a vet would not come out to see him.
I think he has a sprained fetlock.He only puts his toe on the ground, the joint is warm and only bends a little.
Thank you for your insight. Much appreciated.
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