Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Lameness, Recent Front Limb

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

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

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

  • If the horse seems to be in distress.
  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) in the resting horse indicate fever (Temp >101F/38.3C) or heart rate greater than 48 BPM.
  • If severe and obvious lameness is visible at the walk.

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

  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.
  • If the lameness is mild.

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

Sudden onset forelimb lameness is a very common equine emergency. About 90% of forelimb lameness arises from a problem in the lower limb, below the fetlock joint. Upper front limb (shoulder, elbow) lameness is generally very rare in adult horses.

There are as many potential causes as there are anatomic locations within the limb. The most likely diagnoses depends very much upon the horse’s breed, type, conformation and use.

Conditions causing lameness can involve any of the tissues of the limb: skin, hoof, connective tissue, muscle, bone, joint, ligament and tendon, tendon sheath, bursa, nerves and blood vessels.

Often acute or sudden forelimb lameness is assumed to have recently occurred, but may simply have gone undetected.


Assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE). Take a rectal temperature. Look for swelling anywhere on the lame limb. Lift the hoof and inspect the solar surface of the hoof for stones or other objects. Feel for digital pulse. Compare your findings on the lame limb with those of the normal limb. Look for signs of other abnormalities or problems.

Contact your vet with your findings and concerns.


Your vet takes a careful history and performs a physical and lameness exam. Identifying the underlying problem is essential to the choice of treatment.

Identify or Rule-Out Possible CausesDIAGNOSES

Lameness, Conditions Causing, Generally
Sole, Foot, Corn or Heel Bruise
Sole, Foot or Hoof Abscess
Ligament & Tendon Injuries, Generally
Laminitis, Acute
Splints, Splint Exostosis
Sheared Heels
Fracture of Carpal Bone Chip & Slab
Osteoarthritis, OA, Generally
Foot or Hoof Conditions, Undiagnosed
Flexor Tendon Injury, Tendinitis, Bowed Tendon
Navicular Syndrome
Pedal Osteitis, Marginal Fractures Coffin Bone
Nail or Other Foreign Body Punctures Foot, Sole or Frog
Deep Digital Flexor Tendinitis in Hoof
Strain or Injury Distal Ligaments Proximal Sesamoid
Suspensory Ligament Branch Injury
Fracture of Coffin Bone, Generally
Laminitis, Support-Limb
Coffin Joint Arthritis, Low Ringbone
Neck Conditions, Generally
Suspensory Ligament Body Injury
Fracture of Splint Bone
Proximal Suspensory Ligament Injury, Front Limb
Joint Capsulitis, Synovitis, Tenosynovitis
Fracture or Broken Bone, Generally
Carpal Arthritis, Carpitis
Fetlock Arthritis, Osselets
Rope Burn, Uncomplicated Pastern Abrasion
Osteochondrosis, OC, Osteochondritis Dissecans, OCD
Carbohydrate or Grain Overload
Pastern Arthritis, High Ringbone
Fracture of Sesamoid Bones
Stress or Hairline Fractures, Generally
Collateral Ligament Injury or Rupture, Generally
Infection of Extensor Tendon Sheath
Septic or Infected Flexor Tendon Sheath (in Adult)
Wound or Laceration into Joint, Tendon Sheath or Bursa
Wound or Laceration of Coronet Band & Hoof Wall
Carpal Hygroma, Synovial Hernia, Ganglion
Fracture of Pastern Bones
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Carpal Canal Tenosynovitis
Navicular Bursa Penetrated by Foreign Body
Fracture of Scapula or Point of Shoulder
Sidebone, Ossified Collateral Cartilage
Fracture of Extensor Process P3
Fracture of Cannon Bone, Complete
Fracture of Navicular Bone
Fracture of Radius or Tibia
Offset Carpus or Bench Knees
Biceps Brachii Tendinitis, Bicipital Bursitis
Fracture of Cannon Bone, Condylar
Sporadic Lymphangitis
Pigeon Fever
False Ringbone
Obesity, Overweight or Fat
Deep Digital Flexor Tendon Rupture
Lameness, Undiagnosed
Radial Exostosis & Osteochondroma

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

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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