What is Suprascapular Neuropathy (Sweeney Shoulder)?
As suprascapular neuropathy progresses it makes it difficult for the horse to walk correctly. The horse will also swing their shoulder, this is due to the muscles wasting away.
If your horse is showing symptoms of suprascapular neuropathy he should be seen by a veterinarian. The early diagnosis and treatment of suprascapular neuropathy allow for a better recovery prognosis for the patient.
Suprascapular neuropathy (Sweeney shoulder) occurs when there is muscle atrophy in the horse’s shoulder caused by damage to the suprascapular nerve. The muscles affected by the suprascapular nerve damage are the supraspinatus, triceps and the infraspinatus muscles. These muscles are what helps the horse move his leg forward.
Symptoms of Suprascapular Neuropathy (Sweeney Shoulder) in Horses
Symptoms may include:
- Inflammation of the shoulder
- Horse is reluctant to move
- Popping sound when horse attempts to walk
- The scapula becomes more visible
- Hollowing surrounding the spine of the scapula
- The shoulder joint appears loose
- Horse swings shoulder
- Abnormal gait
- Inability to extend the shoulder
Causes of Suprascapular Neuropathy (Sweeney Shoulder) in Horses
Suprascapular Neuropathy may be caused by:
- The horse is kicked by another horse
- The horse walked into a stall door, fence post or a tree
- Disuse (horse uses his shoulder muscles improperly)
- Sudden movement using the front legs to the back legs (jumping events or polo game)
- Improper fitting harness, if used
- Lack of use of the muscles and then experiencing a trauma to the shoulder area
Diagnosis of Suprascapular Neuropathy (Sweeney Shoulder) in Horses
The veterinarian will want to go over the horse’s medical history. If your horse had any recent injuries or trauma that you are aware of, inform the veterinarian. The veterinarian may want to review your horse’s vaccination, dental and deworming records. He may ask to see your horse walk on a lead and may also want to see the tack equipment that is typically used.
The patient will then have a physical exam which may include listening to his heart and GI tract with a stethoscope, taking his temperature, blood pressure, and pulse, and checking lymph nodes. Additionally, a reflex test, hoof evaluation, and palpation of the muscles and limbs will be helpful in determining your horse’s discomfort. If the veterinarian suspects suprascapular neuropathy he will recommend taking x-rays of the horse’s shoulders and limbs. The x-rays will be able to reveal if there is muscle atrophy and will also help rule out if there are any fractures in your horse’s shoulder.
Treatment of Suprascapular Neuropathy (Sweeney Shoulder) in Horses
If suprascapular neuropathy is diagnosed, your horse will be restricted to stable rest. The veterinarian may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and pain medication. The veterinarian may recommend physical therapy, massage and muscle stimulation by a trained physiotherapist. Electro-acupuncture may also be suggested, it uses electrical current along with acupuncture needles. Electro-acupuncture can help relieve pain and help with nerve damage. This type of treatment helps give the nerve time to heal while controlling the horse’s pain.
It is important that the horse be allowed limited exercise to avoid muscle atrophy. The veterinarian will let you know what activities are appropriate for the patient. If suprascapular neuropathy is diagnosed in the early stages, the nerve damage can heal and may regenerate. Patients with severe suprascapular neuropathy may require surgery. Your horse will be given general anesthesia as the surgical procedure involves removing scar tissue from around the nerve.
Recovery of Suprascapular Neuropathy (Sweeney Shoulder) in Horses
Most horses recover from mild suprascapular neuropathy within 6 to 8 weeks. In severe cases of suprascapular neuropathy, recovery may take 6 to 12 months. Patients that have cut or severed nerve damage may not have a good recovery prognosis. It is important to follow the treatment plan for the horse. Follow up visits will be necessary to monitor the patient’s progress.
Horses that underwent surgery will be hospitalized for a minimum of 24 hours. The equine surgeon will give post-operative instructions and your horse will be prescribed pain medication and anti-inflammatory drugs. Exercise will be limited for 3 to 4 weeks after surgery.
Oral antibiotics may be recommended as a preventative to a bacterial infection. The incision will have to be cleaned and redressed and the area kept dry and free from flies. Sutures or staples will need to be removed by the veterinarian. X-rays will need to be retaken to check on the muscles. Surgery may help increase the horse’s mobility, but in addition, the veterinarian could suggest physical therapy to help strengthen the horse’s muscles.