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


Swelling around Shoulder & Elbow


Swelling of the upper limb from the shoulder to the elbow is uncommon and may easily go unnoticed because of the normally massive musculature in this area. The most common cause of swelling here is direct trauma from a fall or kick from another horse. A notable and obvious swelling involving the point of the elbow is a shoe boil.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If the horse has no appetite and is obviously depressed.
    • If you notice significant swelling or pain at the site.
    • If severe lameness accompanies this sign.
    • If you are not sure if your horse needs to be seen immediately or not.
  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
  • Code Yellow

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment
    • If the problem is very mild and does not seem to be causing much harm to the horse.

your role


What To Do

Assess the horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), taking note of rectal temperature and general attitude and appetite. Compare the left and right shoulder regions carefully, paying particular attention to whether there is hair loss or other evidence of direct trauma, and to whether the area is painful when touched.

Feel the area carefully and lift the limb, feeling for crackling or crunching sounds that might be associated with a fracture. Assess lameness at the walk. Note: the degree of lameness (not the degree of swelling) usually correlates with the degree of the injury.

Place the horse in a bedded stall and call your vet.

What Not To Do

Do not give a horse a pain reliever and then allow them turnout. They may exercise more than they should and worsen the injury.

your vet's role

They may instruct you to give a dose of medication to control pain until they arrive and can examine the horse. Your vet will attempt to definitively diagnose the injury. In some cases, they may choose to treat the horse symptomatically, with rest and NSAIDs for a few days.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Do you notice hair loss or other evidence of direct trauma?
  • Do you notice lameness?
  • When did you first notice the swelling?
  • When did you first notice this?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Do you notice any other signs of trauma?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

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

Very Common
Less Common
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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)

Very Common
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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP