Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Ligament & Tendon Injuries, Generally

A ligament is a fibrous connective tissue band that attaches bone to bone. A tendon attaches a muscle to a bone. Ligaments and tendons have very little blood supply and therefore heal very slowly.

When examined under the microscope, ligaments and tendons are composed of highly organized dense connective tissue that is extremely strong. Generally, they heal through the formation of scar tissue, which is never as strong or as flexible as the original structure. Due to this, re-injury is common.

Ultrasound is commonly used by vets to image ligaments and tendons. In some injuries, bone is pulled away at the ligamentous attachment. This fracture is usually visible on a radiograph and is called an avulsion.

The standard treatment for ligament and tendon injury historically has been time. Since these structures have poor blood supply and so can take many months to heal. Today there are more options for treatment, including direct injection of stem cells, PRP and other regenerative products into the injured ligament. There is still a great deal not known about the effectiveness of these treatments.

QUESTIONS TO ASK MY VET

  • What is the likelihood of recurrence of this injury?
  • Is there scientific research to support the use of regenerative therapies over the more conservative treatments used in the past?
  • PREVENTION

    Select horses of good conformation for your intended purpose or discipline.

    Conditioning: Tendons strengthen with conditioning and gradually increasing load. Always over-condition your horse for the work asked of him. Long, slow, distance work-such as a 30- to 45-minute walk/ trot -is ideal, as this strengthens tendons and ligaments without stressing them. Ensure overall fitness exceeds work level and expectations.

    Good footing. Uneven or deep footing causes tendon and ligament injury. Never ride a horse in bad footing (too deep or too thin or hard).

    Hoof care:Maintain excellent hoof balance and short shoeing or trimming interval to prevent hoof overgrowth and excessive torque on ligaments and tendons of lower limb.

    Warm-up: Plan to walk a horse under saddle a minimum of 10 to 15 minutes before you start to work.

    Recognize subtle signs of lameness before they become severe. Notice swelling, heat or digital pulse in your horse's limbs by learning what constitutes normal (WHE). Observe your horse's limbs before you ride and take note of any changes you notice.

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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