What are Tendonitis?
Although the tendon has great strength and elasticity, if your horse is worked vigorously on hard or unfirm ground the tendon can sustain injury caused by repetitive movements. This condition usually leads to lameness immediately but deep damage can be more subtle and may require an ultrasonic scan to detect the cause of your horse’s reluctance to move. Once healed, tendonitis in horses tends to reoccur due to tissue damage that heals as scar tissue which is less flexible than the tendon itself. Excessive exercise can cause the scar tissue to tear at the junction between healthy and scar tissue.
This condition is often seen in horses that are worked at a very fast pace. Chronic inflammation of the tendon results in lameness of your horse.
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Symptoms of Tendonitis in Horses
- Lameness either severe or intermittent (lameness depending on the amount of damage done to the tendon)
- Bowed tendon is a serious condition that needs immediate veterinary attention
- Swelling around the area of damage sometimes causing a large lump
- Noticeable heat caused from inflammation
- Tenderness when examined
- Bowed tendon is a serious condition for a race horse with the prognosis being guarded about whether your horse races again or not
- Flexor injury occurs mostly during heavy exercising; any excessive training may cause the tearing of the fibres
- This condition can often occur in the digital flexor tendons
- Tendonitis is more common in the forelimb than the hind limb
- Racehorses often experience this in the superficial digital flexor
Causes of Tendonitis in Horses
- Trauma – injuring the tendon on a fence or stumbling from stepping in a hole causing damaging
- Overworking your horse resulting in fatigue and injury
- Poor conditioning of your horse to increased exercise
- Exercising your horse on uneven ground
- A type of repetitive strain injury that is caused by over exercising of your horse
- Repetitive strain on the tendons
- Improper hoof trimming
Diagnosis of Tendonitis in Horses
At the first signs of your horse showing lameness, or if he is having difficulty when moving into a fast gallop, it is advisable to have your horse checked by a veterinarian. The best way to manage tendonitis in your horse is to catch it in its early stages. Getting to know the size and shape of the healthy tendon will assist you to notice any changes or feel in the structure allowing quick treatment to begin. Often you can feel the heat of the inflammation or your horse may react to that area being examined. It can be difficult to assess the amount of damage and the veterinarian may need to perform an ultrasound examination to determine the extent of the injury. Blood tests may be ordered as well to rule out an infectious cause.
Treatment of Tendonitis in Horses
The use of cold cloths will help arrest the damage and inflammation to the leg. If you are using an ice pack or boot, be careful not to leave it on for too long as too much cold can be as damaging as too little. Applying cold to the injury in twenty minute periods then leaving for approx. an hour before reapplying are advised. Your veterinarian will be able to advise and administer anti-inflammatory medications such a phenylbutazone which will assist healing by limiting the inflammation to the tendon. Some medications can be injected directly into the tendons.
Advances in treatment medications include platelet rich plasma, bone marrow and stem cells. By extracting these from your horse and then using these to be applied to the injury site, it helps the healing process. There are also other compounds that can be injected to the damaged tendon including hyaluronic acid and organically derived compounds. For race horses, a surgical method where the subtle cutting of the part of the tendon under general anesthetic has proven to be most effective. This surgical procedure allows compensation for the loss of elasticity.
Recovery of Tendonitis in Horses
Rest for your horse is vital if it has sustained damage to the ligaments. Your veterinary specialist can advise on how often and for how long to apply the cold compresses, and your horse may have a series of medicated treatments to assist recovery. Stall rest is advised but can be supplemented with restricted exercising such as a quiet walking in hand. The amount of time it takes is at least 3 months of inactivity to allow healing. Repeated scans may be necessary to evaluate the tendon prior to increasing the amount of exercise. Getting to know how your horse’s tendons feel while they are normal, and then doing quick daily checks after exercising your horse provides the most effective way of prevention for this condition. Catching any injury in the early stages means quicker healing and less down time for you and your horse.