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Treating Tendon Injuries in Horses

Updated: Apr 2, 2023

Caring for tendons, or managing a horse with a tendon injury is probably every horse owner’s nightmare. A horse with a tendon injury used to mean months of box rest, which is stressful for all concerned, and with no real guarantee of a full return to fitness at the end of it. Thankfully, vets are now learning better tendon healing strategies from human sports medicine that don't include ice, bute and box rest. You may be surprised to learn that experts now recommend prevention, precision based training, and controlled exercise.

Understanding the anatomy and biomechanics of the tendons and ligaments of the lower limb is key for all riders, coaches and therapists. This very topic is covered in our online seminar with Gillian Higgins and Dr Seth O'Neill.

During this fascinating seminar Gillian illustrates the anatomy of the tendons and ligaments of the lower limb, and how to feel and assess them. Also, you’ll study the biomechanics, movement and function of tendons and ligaments in different gaits and movements as well as jumping.

Seth describes what we know about tendinopathy and the factors that lead to its development. This draws on the latest knowledge and cutting edge understanding of human and equine disorders. Seth covers how we should use this knowledge in order to prevent and treat tendinopathy.

When it comes to tendon injuries, don’t rest! Strengthen
Dr Seth O Neill, Associate Professor, College of Life Sciences, Uni of Leicester

Tendon problems arise through either inflammation (Tendinitis) or degeneration (Tendinosis). Lameness does not always occur through inflammation, it can also be through degeneration - which explains why the typical approach of rest and anti-inflammatory medication (box rest and bute) doesn't always resolve the issue.

In simple terms your horse's body is constantly being strained/degenerated with activity and repaired during rest. If the rate of wear is faster than repair the tissue degenerates to the point it produces symptoms.

If your horse has a tendon twinge, think of it as a little ‘wake up call’, and it should prompt a reduction and re-evaluation of his workload followed by a gradual re-introduction of tendon stress (physical exertion), throughout the recovery phase.

What is important to note is that if you rest the tissue (tendon or muscle), it degenerates through disuse - the opposite of what you want. This is where the rehab side in horses is tricky and need careful monitoring.

Tendon injuries - Some of the Key risk factors

  • Repetitive training without adequate rest

  • Previous injury

  • Too much training

  • Poor training surface

  • Incorrect foot balance or shoeing

  • Muscle weakness

Complete rest is harmful as it causes the tendon to waste. We try to not rest human athletes - instead using strength training to rehab muscle, which controls stress on the tendon, and the same is true for the horse.

There is so much more we need to learn about the anatomy, management and rehabilitation of tendons. If this new thinking is the way forward, it has to be better for the horse from a mental well-being perspective. Anything that moves away from weeks confined in a stable has to be a positive step for horse welfare.


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