Veterinarians must be aggressive to detect distal limb lameness in sport horses

Veterinarians must be aggressive to detect distal limb lameness in sport horses

Rigorous evaluation techniques and diagnostics are key to early identification and treatment of lameness.
Apr 01, 2014

In sport horses, the distal limb is vulnerable to potential injury and lameness, as it plays a significant role in adapting to footings and providing shock absorption during locomotion. "Foot balance, both medial-lateral and dorsal-palmar, can have a profound effect on the excursion of joints and the stress on soft tissues of the distal limb," says Richard Mitchell, DVM, owner of Fairfield Equine Associates in Newtown, Conn. "Footing surfaces that are very hard, excessively soft or unstable can result in aberrant motion and stress that may result in injury."1

Sport horses are particularly susceptible to distal limb injury and lameness due to the intense stress placed on the joints during exercise. (GETTY IMAGES/TINA LEE STUDIO)
Recognizing potentially serious distal limb lameness early may prevent significant loss of training and competition time and help extend the horse's career.1 "Periodic, proactive inspection of the sport horse is preferable to reactionary medicine, or 'fire-engine' medicine," Mitchell says. "Periodically examining horses can help us catch subtle lameness and performance problems before they develop into serious clinical issues."

Before investing in imaging, Mitchell recommends conducting a thorough clinical examination, which will help determine what type of imaging is necessary. The physical exam includes various manipulative tests, tools (e.g. hoof testers), wedge tests and specific nerve blocks. "These diagnostic techniques are essential," he says. "Taking the time to do a thorough examination will save the practitioner time—and the client money—in the long run."

The old methodology of administering nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory drugs to stem the lameness effects before doing the workup is no longer the favored approach, Mitchell says. "It's better to immediately diagnose the lameness when the problem is present, which will possibly avert further lameness from occurring," he says.