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


Swelling of Upper Hind Limb or Leg


For purpose of this record, the upper hind limb is the area between the hock and the hip.

The upper hind limb is composed mostly of massive musculature covering the hip joint and down to the stifle, This mass of muscle and connective tissue makes diagnosis of injuries in this region difficult even for experienced vets.

The stifle is the first joint that is relatively accessible visually and manually. The hind limb below the stifle (known as the gaskin) is heavily muscled on its outside surface, whereas the inside surface has relatively less muscle, with vital nerves and very large vessels right under the skin. In addition, there is little covering protecting the tibia bone here, and fractures to this bone are therefore not that uncommon.

Swelling of the upper hind leg can be associated with a variety of disease processes. Bacterial infections and traumatic injuries are the most common. The massive musculature makes diagnosis difficult. The hip joint is stabilized by huge muscles and heavy ligaments. Injuries to the hip joint itself are relatively rare and are difficult to diagnose. Disease processes can ascend from the lower limb (puncture wound and infection) or descend from the groin or abdomen (abscess or traumatic injury).

The best indicator of severity of injury and the need for veterinary help is the presence and degree of lameness. Fractures, joint, tendon and ligament injuries and severe infections typically cause severe lameness.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If lameness is noticeable at the walk.
    • 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.
  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • Even if the horse does not appear to be lame to you.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.
You also might be observing
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your role


What To Do

Assess the horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to the degree and location of swelling, presence of pain to pressure over the swollen area, and especially the degree of lameness at the walk. Lift and gently manipulate the limb. Does the horse react? Keep in mind that infections are often associated with fever. Fractures are usually associated with severe lameness. Contact your vet with your findings and concerns.

What Not To Do

Do not open or lance swellings without veterinary supervision.

your vet's role

A vet typically begins with an assessment of general health. Because of the massive musculature of the equine upper hind limb, it is a difficult area to examine and image. Your vet rules out common injuries and conditions using visual and manual examination techniques. X-ray is useful but can be difficult here, especially in large horses. Ultrasound is a very useful tool for defining the origin of swelling.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Do you notice lameness?
  • How severe do you think the lameness is?
  • To you knowledge, did your horse have an accident or injure itself lately?
  • When did you first notice the swelling?
  • Does this horse have a history of lameness?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?
  • What treatments have you tried and how did they work?
  • Can you send me a photo of the problem?

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)

Very Common
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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP