June 13, 2023

Joint Management in Horses

Horses are high performance athletes. Just think about it - their movement provides the ultimate combination of strength and coordination. But, what really helps a horse achieve smooth, frictionless movement? Healthy and happy joints.

For a healthy joint to achieve a range of motion, several structures must work together like a well-oiled machine:

  • Articular Cartilage - a joint connects 2 bone ends that are covered by articular cartilage.  The ultimate goal of the articular cartilage is to enable frictionless movement of the joint and distribute even loads into subchondral bone.
  • Subchondral Bone - this bone is beneath the articular cartilage, and it acts as a shock absorber.
  • Collateral Ligament - these ligaments help maintain strength and stability in the joint.
  • Fibrous Joint Capsule - tightly connected to both bones and collateral ligaments. The joint capsule works to provide joint stability. 
  • Synovial Membrane - secretes the synovial fluid, which provides lubrication within the joint itself.
  • Synovial Fluid - the main function of synovial fluid is to lubricate the joints. It also supplies nutrients and removes waste from the articular cartilage.

Be Proactive, Not Reactive

At Countryside, we encourage horse owners and trainers to think about joint care management early on in a horse's career. Early intervention leads to the most successful prognosis and can prevent permanent joint damage, which can eventually lead to osteoarthritis.

A good horsemanship practice is to check the legs before and after each ride or workout. Run your hands down your horse's legs to feel for any heat, swelling or other changes. In many cases, there are signs before a horse ever goes lame. Proper maintenance and management can allow your horse to not only reach their best performance level but extend their performance lifespan.

Joint Disease is quite common in horses

No matter your horse’s discipline or breed, the joints are subject to stresses and injury and it is impossible to prevent joint stress. So, what happens if you find out your horse does have some arthritic changes starting to occur?  Unfortunately, osteoarthritis is not curable, so the key is management. A successful management and prevention program can slow down or halt the ongoing damage, but early detection and prompt treatment is vital. Procedures such as icing and bandaging, anti-inflammatory drugs, phenylbutazone and surpass for example, anti-arthritic medications such as Legend and Adequan and joint injections are effective treatments for managing osteoarthritis. Newer techniques such as IRAP have been developed which involves collecting and using the horses’s own natural antibodies as a joint injection. The goal of all joint therapies is:

  • To reduce / eliminate pain
  • To return the joint to normal
  • To minimize the progression of joint deterioration & Osteoarthritis

Notice Swelling Or Puffiness On Your Horse's Knee, Hock Or Fetlock Area?

From training to competition, repetitive movements and trauma can lead to inflammation of the joint. When inflammation occurs, it can be a result of damage to the synovial membrane. The synovial membrane increases the volume of synovial fluid, which dilutes the hyaluronic acid and causes the synovial fluid to become less viscous (thinner and more watery). This condition is known as synovitis and it's what can make the joint feel warm and puffy. Synovial health is vital to proper joint function.

Severely thickened synovium (joint lining) revealed by ultrasound.

An Inside Look At Synovitis: Ultrasound

Ultrasound is a diagnostic technology that uses sound waves to reveal internal structures of your horse. This quick and painless diagnostic tool plays a major role in the treatment and management of equine injuries.