What are Windgalls?
Soft synovial swellings that evolve just above and behind the horse’s fetlock joint are called windgalls. Also known as wind puffs, windgalls are the result of an over-secretion of joint fluid due to irritation in the surfaces or capsule of the joint. Windgalls can be seen in other joints and tendons and while they are a common occurrence in the front legs of a horse, they may also be seen in the hind legs of horses that participate in jumping. The size of windgalls often increase with the horse working.
Windgalls are synovial swellings that yield to pressure located just above and behind the horse’s fetlock joint, occurring as a result of irritation and too much joint fluid being secreted.
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Symptoms of Windgalls in Horses
Should your horse experience windgalls, you may see the following:
- Swellings that yield to pressure near his joints and tendons
- More rigid swellings in the fetlock area
- Change in your horse’s performance
- Lameness is unusual and will typically mean there is a more significant underlying issue
There are two types of windgalls in horses:
Most commonly occurring type, typically seen in middle aged horses who have put in hard work. Often the swelling is actually the membrane that lines the sheath becoming thickened, as opposed to fluid. This type is less likely to mean that there is real trouble for your horse than the other type. Some horses will experience these off and on.
These are more apt to indicate a disease in your horse. They occur in horses that are experiencing degenerative joint disease of the fetlock along with other traumatic conditions. Articular windgalls are also found in numerous horses who do not display any symptoms of lameness over a period of time, seen as firm protrusions in the middle of the cannon bone and the suspensory ligament. Articular windgalls can be seen in many show jumping horses whose fetlocks become stiff and unable to be flexed to the usual extent. Fortunately, horses appear to deal with these inflexible fetlocks well and are able to continue to function.
Causes of Windgalls in Horses
Windgalls are the result of irritation to the joint surfaces or joint capsules. In some cases, they are caused by excess tendon fluid being present in the tendon sheaths located behind the fetlock joint. The following factors may contribute to the development of windgalls in your horse:
- Overworking a young, heavy horse, particularly on hard surfaces
- Poor conformation
- Improper trimming of your horse’s hoof
- Ligament, tendon or joint capsule tears
- Articular cartilage in the joint being injured
Diagnosis of Windgalls in Horses
Diagnosing windgalls in your horse is typically not difficult. You may notice heat in the area of the swelling and your horse may display his discomfort upon your handling his fetlock. The tendon sheath may feel hard as the larger amount of fluid present may stretch it. Should you notice anything amiss, you will want to contact your veterinarian, who will conduct a physical examination of your horse. Upon examining him, your veterinarian will determine if additional testing should be conducted.
An ultrasound, x-rays or a tenoscopy can be utilized to get a better view of the area. Your veterinarian will likely ask you for details in regards to when you first noticed the swelling, as well as whether there have been any changes in the degree of swelling. Depending on whether your horse is lame, your veterinarian may look more closely at his tendons, ligaments, and sheath to see if the swelling is a result of a recent injury as opposed to a chronic condition.
Treatment of Windgalls in Horses
Should your horse experience wind galls, you will want to work with your veterinarian to establish a treatment plan. Often, modifying your horse’s training or work can help to reduce the irritation and inflammation that lead to the wind galls. Ice and bandaging may also be recommended and can help your horse avoid becoming sore. Once windgalls occur, they tend to come back when activity is again increased. Anti-inflammatories and focal ultrasound therapy may also help to resolve the problem.
Injections of hyaluronic acid may be considered as this can help normalize the environment of the tendon sheath. In some cases, (if the ligament is significantly enlarged and constricts the tendon sheath) surgery may be recommended. In some horses, mostly for cosmetic reasons, the swellings may be drained and the area injected with a corticosteroid.
Recovery of Windgalls in Horses
As your horse undergoes treatment for windgalls, it is important to work with your veterinarian on how to best manage the condition to ensure the best outcome. Your horse should not be kept in his stall during healing as he will benefit from controlled exercise. In between his exercise sessions, your horse should be held in a contained area so he will not be running.
To avoid your horse developing windgalls, you can do the following:
- Ensure that your horse (particularly young, heavier horses) is not over-worked on hard surfaces
- Make sure your horse is properly shoed
- Treat any injuries to tendons, ligaments, and joint capsules right away
Windgalls Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Hi, my horse has windgalls on all 4 fetlocks and has as long as I have owned him. They have recently gotten bigger and I am now concerned. I was wondering if it was normal for windgalls to increase in size? Also does the increased fluid put extra pressure on the fetlock joint? Horse is not lame and is still very happy to be ridden however due to his age I am worrying about the size of them. He lives in a paddock 24/7 so bandaging overnight is not an option. Looking at getting pentosan injections but not sure if these help at all, maybe HA would be more suitable? Am also looking at compression socks if these may be a short term fix. Thank you very much for your time.
(Am desperately trying to get my vet out over the last week however he has been incredibly busy)
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