Weak Flexor Tendons in Horses

Weak Flexor Tendons in Horses - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost
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Weak Flexor Tendons in Horses - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

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What are Weak Flexor Tendons?

Weak flexor tendon in horses is also known as flaccidity or dropped fetlocks.  Typical symptoms include not weight bearing on the toe like he should, hyperextension of the leg, and improper hoof placement.  The tendon and the muscle in the area lack strength and cause the foal to use his leg improperly.  In many cases, as the foal begins to gain strength and exercise, the condition is able to correct itself.  However, in some situations, a little extra help may be required.  Specific trimming of the hooves may be needed in order to force the foal to bear his weight in the proper manner.  This leads to tightening of the tendons and the fetlock with be forced back into proper alignment.  With appropriate care, your foal should recover without any long term side effects.

Weak flexor tendons are typically seen in foals with stunted growth.  The severity of the condition can range from mild to severe, but there are treatments you can employ to correct the abnormality.

Symptoms of Weak Flexor Tendons in Horses

Symptoms can vary but may include:

  • Palmar/plantar surface of hoof on the ground
  • Non-weight bearing on the toe
  • Caudal surface of fetlock may contact the ground
  • Digital hyperextension 


Weak flexor tendons can occur in mild, moderate, and severe forms.  Mild and moderate forms can be treated with supportive bandages and splints, alteration of the hoofs, and exercise.  The severe form is uncommon but can happen due to underlying genetic issues.  The mild form of weak flexor tendons is the most common form seen.



Causes of Weak Flexor Tendons in Horses

Weak flexor tendons are typically a result of some form of stunted growth in the foal.  Animals with this condition have usually been confined in a small area due to illness or injury; the small area does not allow much exercise.  Confinement and illness leads to the tendon and muscle weakness from lack of use and from not being able to flourish and grow.



Diagnosis of Weak Flexor Tendons in Horses

The appearance of your horse’s leg will assist the veterinarian in her diagnosis.  In cases of weak flexor tendons, the fetlocks drop, toes may elevate, pasterns may slope, and while standing, the foal may rock back and forth on his heels.  In the more severe cases of flexor tendon weakness, the horse may walk on his heel bulbs, fetlocks, or pasterns.  This can lead to skin abrasions or abscess formation on the pressure point of the limb.  

The veterinarian may want to take a radiograph to see if there is anything else going on, such as a fracture or break.  This is not common, but if she suspects there is an underlying reason or if he does not fit the stereotypical case of weak flexor tendons, it may be helpful for differential diagnostics.



Treatment of Weak Flexor Tendons in Horses

When treating weak flexor tendons, the severity of the condition will determine his treatment.  Shaping of the hoof is usually the first step in treatment.  Heel extensions can be helpful by forcing the foal to walk on the proper weight bearing surface.  The extension forces the fulcrum to move behind the heel as it should be.  However, if the heel begins to grow out too long in an “underslung” way, your horse will be forced to walk on his bulbs even more and can worsen the condition.

Light padding or bandaging of certain areas will also be helpful in your foal’s recovery.  You do not want to bandage the leg or hoof itself as it can make the condition worse.  However, if a part of the leg that should not be bearing weight is, application of padding in that area will avoid pressure sores or abscesses from forming and possibly even avoid the development of secondary bacterial infections.  

If your foal is experiencing the more severe case of this condition, the veterinarian will need to find the underlying cause and treat that.  Supportive care of the legs and hooves is also ideal, but without healing the cause, treatment may not stick.  There is also a surgical procedure that may be useful in cases like these that actually shortens the tendon.

Light exercise is extremely beneficial to your horse and is highly encouraged.  This will help prevent muscle wasting and keep the affected region active and strong as it heals.



Recovery of Weak Flexor Tendons in Horses

Prognosis of recovery from weak flexor tendons is good.  In many cases, treatment is not even necessary; it improves on its own in about 1 to 2 weeks as the foal gains strength.  Exercise is important during the healing process and is correlated with tightening of the weak tendons and returning the hoof and leg into proper alignment.



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