New Horizons in Equine Arthritis Treatment

Veterinary science has found some promising options for helping the arthritic horse.


As veterinary medicine continues to expand and researchers develop new methods, other options for managing arthritis in horses are emerging. Extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) has been used on horses with arthritis since 1998. This therapy applies small but highly concentrated pressure waves to the affected joint. These waves promote increased activity in bone-producing cells within and around the joint. There is also some evidence that shows these waves promote circulation as well. Commonly used to treat ligament and tendon injuries now, ESWT was originally taken from human medicine as a tool to help manage equine arthritis.

Another innovative new technology for equine arthritis is called interleukin-1 receptor antagonist protein (IRAP) therapy. The inflammation that occurs inside a joint with arthritis is in part due to certain chemicals called inflammatory mediators, which are released by the body’s own immune system. One predominant inflammatory mediator is called interleukin-1 (IL-1), which potentiates inflammation and joint pain. IRAP therapy blocks the action of IL-1.

Interestingly, IRAP comes directly from the affected horse. Blood is drawn and sent to a lab where it is incubated for 24 hours with special equipment to stimulate production of IRAP. Then this is injected into the affected joint. While IRAP therapy does not treat arthritis, it can slow the inflammation that is occurring within the joint and help prevent further joint damage.

Perhaps the most recent development in equine arthritis management is the use of stem cells. Itself a fledgling treatment under the umbrella of regenerative medicine, researchers are looking toward stem cells as a viable possibility to slow the progression of arthritis in horses and results look promising, especially when combining stem cell treatment with gene therapy. While stem cell products are not currently approved by the FDA for use in horses, research continues.


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