Throughout their lifetimes, horses often suffer from various common injuries that typically require nothing more than first aid measures performed by their owners and caretakers. More serious joint and muscle disorders may occur in horses based on their age, activity level, genetics, and other factors. Veterinarians are well-acquainted with musculoskeletal issues that occur in equine patients.
Arthritis is a general term that refers to a condition that affects joints and associated tissues. Various forms of the disorder found in horses include degenerative joint disease, infectious arthritis, osteochondritis dissecans, and traumatic arthritis. The joint disorder often begins with fluid accumulation in an injured joint. As the disorder progresses, the area becomes swollen and warm to the touch. The horse may exhibit pain by limping or when the affected joint is manipulated. If allowed to progress without treatment, thickening and scarring of surrounding tissues occurs, which reduces the joint range of motion. X-rays determine the condition’s type and severity and the best course of treatment.
Bursitis involves the inflammation of the bursa sac, which acts as a cushion between tendons and joints. A horse’s withers, elbows, and hocks are areas commonly affected by the disorder. Bursitis may become chronic when a joint suffers ongoing trauma, which also leads to connective tissue damage. If the problem is related to an infection, the animal suffers pain. When left untreated, the infection travels through the bloodstream and becomes life-threatening. Minor types of bursitis may be treated with cold packs and medications to alleviate pain and swelling. Chronic forms of the disorder may require corrective surgery. Infectious processes require antibiotics and site drainage.
Tendinitis, or bowed tendon, may occur suddenly or become chronic over time. The condition may occur in horses having improper shoes, joint malformations, or being subject to extreme activity such as racing. Tendinitis more commonly develops in the flexor tendons of the forelegs—the connective tissue fibers rupture. When blood vessel damage occurs, fluid accumulation also occurs in the affected area. Acute forms of the problem leave the joint warm, swollen and painful. Chronic forms of tendon damage may not occur until the horse gallops. Imaging studies determine the extent of the trauma.