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Lameness

 

Lameness is one of the most common problems seen in equine practice and can cause great frustrations to owners.

Lameness can vary from severe cases associated with fractures to subtle problems causing a decrease in performance. Lameness emergencies requiring immediate veterinary attention include severe non-weight bearing lameness and lameness associated with a wound near a joint or tendon sheath.  Investigations in these instances may include digital x-rays to determine if a fracture is present, ultrasound examination to assess ligament or tendon damage or joint or tendon sheath taps to ascertain if there is any involvement of these structures.

 

More chronic or subtle lameness investigations can be completed either at your yard or at our clinic where our purpose built facilities allow comprehensive examinations, diagnostics and treatments. Your horse's gait will be examined, usually at walk and trot on hard and soft surfaces in a straight line followed by lunging or ridden work as required. Flexion tests may be performed where your veterinary surgeon will hold the limb in a flexed position for around one to two minutes before watching your horse trot.  This causes an increase in pressure in joints, stresses the joint capsules and causes soft tissue compression so any lameness associated with these structures can be accentuated.  Palpation of the legs for any signs of swelling, heat, tenderness or asymmetries can help localise the cause of the problem and hoof testers can help determine any pain in the foot. 

Nerve or joint blocks may also be warranted. Local anaesthetic is infused either around a nerve bundle or directly into a joint to look for improvements in lameness which will allow localisation of a problem.

 

Once the source of the pain has been identified, diagnostic imaging can be performed using digital x-rays and ultrasound to determine the problem.  In the vast majority of cases diagnosis and treatments can be completed at your yard or at our clinic. However, in some cases, referral for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or surgical investigations and treatments  may be required. We are happy to arrange this for you at one of a selection of first class referral hospitals in the area.

Important considerations:

  • The horse should be shod as normal for a lameness work-up as any changes may alter the gait and the presentation making investigations difficult.  Please be aware, however, that occasionally a shoe may need to be removed to fully assess the foot during our examinations.

  • Painkillers, such as phenylbutazone, should not be given for at least 48 hours before a lameness work up as this could hide clinical signs.

  • It may be necessary to clip your horse horse over nerves/joints, to allow areas to be cleaned thoroughly, reducing the risk of infection or for ultrasonography.

  • Horses may require sedation or twitching to enable nerve blocks to be performed safely.

  • Depending on clinical findings or the diagnosis a period of box rest may be recommended.