When horse tendons are damaged they do not heal well. Healing continues for up to 18 months after the damage occurs and treatment is often necessary for 6 months. The most common place where damage occurs is at the mid-canon level eg. at the back of the front leg midway between the knee and the fetlock. Horses are prone to tendon injuries because of the importance of the flexor tendons in maintaining the standing position. Great strain is put on these tendons in horses that gallop or jump at speed, which can lead to equine tendonitis.
Tendons are made of bundles of collagen fibres which connect muscles to the bones which they pull on. These tendons are very strong but not very elastic. When they are damaged new collagen is laid down in the area of injury but the new type of tendon never fully regains the strength it had before.
It is possible for horses to have a small injury without being lame. Signs of such problems include warmth and very slight swellings of the tendon. It is very important in these circumstances for the horse to be treated and rested. Ultrasound can be used to picture tendon damage and find out how bad it is.
Use of food supplements is vital to support the therapy above, particularly when the horse is on stable rest and reduced diet.
Horses with a tendon injury cannot usually be worked again for at least 6 months after 6-8 weeks box rest. During the first month of repair, the body attempts to stabilise the damaged area with cross-links between damaged tendon fibres and only after this period does it start on the repair work of long tendon fibres themselves.
Bowed tendons are caused by severe damage to tendons at the mid cannon level. Bleeding and swelling never fully settle down and cause permanent disruption to the shape of the area. If damaged tendons are not treated properly they become bowed.
Ligament damage (esp. Suspensory ligament and check ligaments)
Ligaments are stronger than tendons and are bands of very tough tissue that hold joints together and hold bones in place.
There are numerous small ligaments in each joint but the most commonly damaged ligaments are those in the suspensory equipment above the fetlock. The suspensory ligament’s job is to hold the fetlock joint in its correct position. This is an important and demanding job and the suspensory ligament is prone to damage in horses that undertake fast work eg in the front legs of hunters and eventers. The suspensory ligament lies just in front of the main flexor tendons that run at the back of the leg above the fetlock.
Suspensory strain is a serious injury and often occurs in relation to splints and sesamoid injuries as these structures lie close to the ligament. Treatment of suspensory ligament damage is similar to that of tendons. 6-8 weeks is needed for the inflammation to settle down and at least 6 months rest needed for full recovery.
Check ligaments are small ligaments that connect ligament to the tendon. The inferior check ligament connects the suspensory ligament to the deep digital flexor tendon. The deep digital flexor tendon lies underneath the main superficial flexor tendons of the leg that run with the suspensory ligament.
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