Lameness is the most common cause of lost or decreased performance in horses. Some lamenesses are acute, becoming obvious within hours of injury, while others are insidious and develop over time. Mild lameness often responds well to rest and conservative management, including controlled exercise, cold therapy, and/or anti-inflammatory medication.
More severe lamenesses require prompt evaluation, diagnosic imaging, and treatment based upon examination findings. At the New Jersey Equine Clinic, our veterinarians have decades of experience with the diagnosis and treatment of lameness.
The first step in this process is a thorough physical examination and conformational assessment. The horse is then evaluated for lameness at the walk and trot on hard and soft surfaces paying particular attention to alterations in limb loading, stride length, and/or foot flight pattern. Ancilllary provocative tests such as limb flexion tests, longeing, riding under saddle, and/or application of hoof testers may also be performed to further assist in identifying the affected limb(s).
Diagnostic anesthesia is used to further localize a horse's lameness to a specific anatomical region once the affected limb is identified. Injection of a small amount of local anesthetic solution over a regional nerve desensitizes anatomical structures innervated by that nerve. For example, injection of local anesthetic solution over the palmar digital nerves just above the heel bulbs, as illustrated in the figure to the right, desensitizes many of the structures in the heel region and sole. If the source of horse's lameness originates from that region, then the horse should appear sound following the nerve block. Current research has helped veterinarians to appreciate that diffusion of local anesthetic makes interpretation of regional nerve blocks much less specific than originally thought. For this reason, it may be necessary in some cases to use intrasynovial anesthesia in conjunction with regional nerve blocks to accurately isolate the source of pain to a specific joint, bursa, or tendon sheath.
Once the horse's lameness has been localized to a specific region, diagnostic imaging modalities (digital radiography and/or digital ultrasonography) are used to identify the anatomic structures involved in the disease process or injury, and to establish a definitive diagnosis.
Veterinarians at the New Jersey Equine Clinic will then discuss the lameness examination findings with you, present the treatment options, and make specific recommendations so your horse can resume athletic function as quickly and safely as possible.