Stifle lameness in horses is fairly common, but can be difficult to diagnose. The stifle is the largest joint in horses and is like a human knee, with ligaments, bones and soft tissues, which include a patella, cruciate ligament and menisci. There are three patella ligaments that allow a horse to rest while standing; this is also called the stay apparatus. There are two joints in the stifle, both of which can cause problems.
A horse with stifle issues may have swelling or be reactive to flexion tests. X-rays and ultrasounds are helpful for diagnosis, but a veterinarian may also inject an anesthetic to see if the horse becomes more comfortable. A high-motion joint, the stifle can be injured when horses work at high speeds or when they are jumping. The two main categories of stifle injuries include femoropatellar and femorotibial.
Femopatellar conditions can include locking stifle, osteochondrosis and patellar fractures.
Locking stifle is common in young horses and ponies. It has a variety of severity, but treatment is generally concentrated on increasing the horse's hind-end strength. If that is unsuccessful, injecting the ligaments to tighten them may be performed next, with surgical incisions to thicken the ligament used as a last resort.
Osteochondrosis happens when the blood supply to a bone is interrupted and part of the bone dies; bone regrowth is often not linear, resulting in lameness. This commonly occurs in foals and young horses, and can range from mild to severe; it is most often diagnosed by X-ray. Treatment can range from stall confinement to surgery and success rates depend on the severity of each case.
Patellar fractures are most commonly seen in sport horses that hit a solid cross-country fence. The horse becomes severely lame and surgery is usually performed, either to remove small bone fragments or to place screws to stabilize the joint.
Read about femorotibial joint issues at The Horse Magazine.
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