Causes of Equine Lameness: Tendon and Ligament Injury

Tendon and ligament injuries are among the most common causes of lameness in horses.


Tendon and Ligament Injury
There are several important tendons and ligaments in the lower leg. The superficial digital flexor tendon, the deep digital flexor tendon, and the suspensory ligament are the most prominent and often prone to injury. Injuries to these structures can occur acutely or be a result of chronic strain. Signs of tendon or ligament damage include lameness, heat, pain on palpation, or swelling across the back of the limb where these structures lie.

Diagnosis of these injuries involves the previously described techniques to localize the problem. The best way to evaluate the tendons and ligaments of the lower leg is through ultrasonography, which displays the intricate linear fiber pattern of the tendons and ligaments to show disruption or swelling in the structures.

Because tendons and ligaments have a very limited blood supply, they are difficult to target with therapeutics, so healing can be slow. Conservative options include stall rest, limited activity and anti-inflammatory medications. Shockwave therapy employs powerful acoustic energy directed at a focal point to increase blood flow and boost the natural healing process. Horses with suspensory ligament injuries show faster healing when shockwave is used; however, this treatment’s overall effectiveness has not been universally demonstrated, and not all experts are convinced it works.

Advances in regenerative medicine are the newest methods being used for tendon and ligament injuries. Injecting platelet-rich plasma (PRP) directly into the injured area will increase the amount of local growth factors that will promote healing.

Injection of stem cells into a lesion can provide a cellular scaffolding on which healing can begin. Both PRP and stem cells can be harvested from your own horse, making them safer and less likely to cause a reaction. Because they are from the body’s own cells or plasma, they do not trigger an immune response or inflammation.

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