Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Lameness, Chronic Front Limb

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

  • If lameness is noticeable at the walk.

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

  • If the lameness is mild.

Lameness is an alteration in gait caused by pain or a restriction on movement (mechanical lameness).

For horses of all breeds, ages and disciplines, chronic front limb lameness is one of the most common causes of lost use. There are hundreds of anatomic structures in the front limb of a horse. Pain can arise from any one of them. In some cases, pain arises from multiple sites.

Ideally, any lameness is assessed by a vet soon after it is detected. Some lameness conditions, if allowed to progress, cause serious and sometimes irreversible harm to the anatomy of the limb, resulting in permanent and irreversible lameness.

Approximately 90% of front limb lameness originates in the lower limb below the fetlock. Lameness originating in the upper limb are relatively rare in adult horses, but do occur. Lameness originating from conditions higher up the forelimb is much more common in growing horses. Common conditions causing chronic lameness in the forelimb are navicular disease/chronic heel pain, osteoarthritis of a joint, and tendon or ligament injuries.


Assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE). Look for swelling in any of the limbs and especially the one you think is lame. To the extent you can, assess the horse for lameness at the walk and trot. See if you can identify which limb is lame and how consistent and severe the lameness appears. Look for digital pulse and heat in the feet. Look for signs of any other abnormalities and share your findings with your vet.

Consider the horse’s conformation and any past accidents or prior lameness diagnoses. Prior to your appointment, gather any veterinary records that can provide additional history that might be useful to your veterinarian. If you have only recently purchased the horse, consider contacting the prior owner and gathering whatever records they have.


Your vet will perform a lameness examination on your horse. This starts with a careful history and physical examination. Once the clinical examination is performed, they may discuss other diagnostics required to make a diagnosis. A diagnosis of the underlying problem is the starting point for the development of an effective treatment plan and prognosis.

Identify or Rule-Out Possible CausesDIAGNOSES

Laminitis, Chronic
Osteoarthritis, OA, Generally
Fetlock Arthritis, Osselets
Carpal Arthritis, Carpitis
Suspensory Ligament Branch Injury
Sheared Heels
Flexor Tendon Injury, Tendinitis, Bowed Tendon
Ligament & Tendon Injuries, Generally
Pastern Arthritis, High Ringbone
Proximal Suspensory Ligament Injury, Front Limb
Navicular Syndrome
Lameness, Conditions Causing, Generally
Foot or Hoof Conditions, Undiagnosed
Contracted Heels
Carpal Arthritis, Carpitis
Epiphysitis, Physitis (in Growing Foal)
Osteochondrosis, OC, Osteochondritis Dissecans, OCD
Osteochondrosis, OC, Osteochondritis Dissecans, OCD
Inferior Check Ligament Strains or Tears
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Carpal Canal Tenosynovitis
Strain or Injury Distal Ligaments Proximal Sesamoid
Sidebone, Ossified Collateral Cartilage
Fracture of Carpal Bone Chip & Slab
Pigeon Fever
Fracture of Sesamoid Bones
Deep Digital Flexor Tendinitis in Hoof
Pedal Osteitis, Marginal Fractures Coffin Bone
Fracture of Splint Bone
Biceps Brachii Tendinitis, Bicipital Bursitis
Collateral Ligament Injury or Rupture, Generally
Sole, Foot, Corn or Heel Bruise
Fracture of Extensor Process P3
Fracture of Scapula or Point of Shoulder
Carpal Hygroma, Synovial Hernia, Ganglion
Radial Exostosis & Osteochondroma
Lameness, Undiagnosed
Offset Carpus or Bench Knees
Neck Conditions, Generally
Foal, Contracted Tendon DDFT, Coffin Joint
Septic or Infected Flexor Tendon Sheath (in Adult)
Wound or Laceration into Joint, Tendon Sheath or Bursa
Fluoroquinolone Induced Tendinopathy
Bone Tumor, Osteosarcoma

Helpful Terms & Topics in HSVGWritten, Reviewed or Shared by Experts in Equine Health

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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