What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Limb or Joint Seems to have Reduced Range of Motion


When you lift and manipulate the limb, you notice that a joint or part of your horse's limb seems stiff or has a reduced range of motion (ROM).

Reduced ROM is most commonly noticed in the carpus (knee), hock, and lower limb (fetlock). Apparent stiffness or ROM can result from a mechanical limitation on movement, like scarring of the joint tissues. Importantly, horses experiencing pain may also resist manipulation of an area, giving an impression of reduced ROM.

Reduced ROM is often an indication of chronic joint injury or inflammation from a variety of causes, including wear-and-tear. Older horses of many types have reduced ROM in a part of a limb. Reduced ROM in the limbs can also be seen in horses that perform certain types of work, again due to wear-and-tear.

Obvious stiffness and reduced ROM should always raise the question of whether the horse is experiencing pain in the area and/or whether the horse is also lame. However, reduced ROM is not always associated with lameness.

  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If there is swelling and pain associated with this problem.
    • If you notice any lameness or have any other concern.
  • Code Yellow

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment
    • If you are considering purchase, be sure to have a purchase exam performed.
    • If you do not notice lameness.
    • Your vet can rule out common lameness conditions and recommend treatment or management.
You also might be observing
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your role


What To Do

Compare the range of motion to that of the opposite limb. As you flex or manipulate the limb, consider whether the horse withdraws in pain? Assess the horse for lameness at the walk and trot. Evaluate the limb for areas of swelling, heat or a pain response. Share your findings and concerns with your vet.

What Not To Do

Do not ignore reduced ROM when assessing a horse. Some horses with reduced ROM are also lame. Do not make assumptions about lameness based on ROM. Some horses with reduced ROM are sound.

Do not attempt to forcibly increase ROM of a limb or region without veterinary supervision, as you may worsen the problem.

your vet's role

Your vet assesses ROM as part of the lameness exam. Range of motion is one more characteristic of the different anatomic regions. During the exam, they may find lameness that may or may not be related to the reduced ROM in a region.

Diagnostics are used to determine the cause for lost ROM. Once a diagnosis is made, then treatment and prognosis can be determined.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • How old is the horse?
  • Is there any swelling in the area?
  • What does the horse do for a living?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • How does this reduced range of motion compare to the other limb?
  • Is the horse limping or lame?
  • If the horse is lame, how lame?
  • Do you perceive that your horse is performing at his peak?
  • Do you notice any resistance to bearing weight on that limb or other limb during the farrier's visit

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

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Treatments Your Vet May Recommend

A way to resolve the condition or diagnosis. Resolving the underlying cause or treating the signs of disease (symptomatic treatment)

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further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP