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


Swelling of Upper Front Limb or Leg


The upper limb above the carpus (knee) is composed mostly of the large forearm muscles. Under those muscles lie the radius (forearm) bone. Above this still is the elbow and shoulder joints. Bone, nerves and vessels are near the skin on the inside of the upper limb, whereas the front, back and outside of the upper limb are protected by heavy muscle. Due to this muscular protection, upper forelimb injuries are generally less serious and less common than lower limb injuries.

Swelling of the upper limb is usually caused by direct trauma such as a kick from another horse. However swelling of the upper limb can also occur as a result of injuries sustained nearby, on the forearm, the lower limb, the trunk, chest or armpit.

Bacterial infections in the chest or armpit (Pigeon Fever) can cause swelling of the upper front limb by extension. Pay special attention to any swelling right at or above the carpus and whether there is lameness associated with the swelling.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If there is severe lameness accompanying this sign.
    • 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 your horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to the affected limb. An important question is whether there is lameness and if so, its severity. Gently feel the lower limb, belly, chest and armpit for injury, swelling or a pain response. Try to move the limb forward and to the side. Assess the horse at the walk looking for and quantifying the degree of lameness. Contact your vet with your findings and concerns.

What Not To Do

Do not administer pain relieving medications to a horse with undiagnosed swelling of the limb without also confining them. If they over-exert, they could worsen an injury.

your vet's role


Your vet will evaluate the area and should be able to identify the cause. Because of the mass of the upper limb, in some cases, the diagnosis can be surprisingly difficult. Radiographs and ultrasound are commonly used and may be helpful diagnostically.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Has there been a traumatic incident that you know of?
  • Is the horse lame now?
  • Is the lameness noticeable to you at the walk?
  • Is there a wound in the area?
  • Is there a wound in either the armpit, groin or upper limb?
  • Is there a wound or swelling in the lower limb?
  • 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.

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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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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP