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Equine Arthritis and Joints


This week we are contiuing our discussion of arthritis.  Any such discussion would be incomplete without including fractures and their effects.  Not all arthritis is due to fractures, but all fractures have the potential to cause arthritis. In this column we will discuss the effect of damage to the joints.

The joint is the "center of movement" for the bones that form the joint.  The ends of the bones that form the joint are smooth and complement each other, so that movement is made freely.  This area is well lubricated with  synovial fluid.  This thick fluid reduces friction that--with time--can lead to erosion of the bones forming the joint.

This process works well as planned by Mother Nature, until the horse finds a unique way to damage the joint.  The two bones forming the joint cannot stay aligned by the weight of the horse alone, that's why there are ligaments installed for support.  These ligaments keep the joint from slipping too far to the side or forward and back.  They connect to the ends of the bones.  Encircling the joint is a tough fibrous wrap which forms the capsule.  The capsule contains the fluid and helps some with stability.

Injuries to the joint can be due to twists or sprains of the joint as well as fractures of the bones.
Recovery from such injuries can leave deposits of calcium.
If the ligaments are pulled or torn free, that location must heal.
Due to the connection between the ligaments and the bone, the healing may be with new bone.
Anytime there is new bone deposited, there is the possibility of a rough surface.
When this rough surface is within a joint, there will be inflammation where the  bones rub together.
So it is easy to see how arthritis results!

Where there is a fracture, the healing process is even more involved:
There may be actual displacement of the bone pieces, which results in a very uneven surface.
This is followed closely by the body’s attempt to heal the break, again with bone formation.
The resulting arthritis produces lameness that is so severe it affects the basic gaits of the horse.
These effects will probably be long term, and can dramatically compromise the horse’s usefulness.

Once again, prompt examination and diagnosis followed by the proper treatment will reduce the amount of arthritis that forms.  Anytime healing is allowed to proceed at its own pace there will be a greater possibility of arthritis.  Over the millions of years of development, the horse has been provided with a rapid healing mechanism.  This fast-healing ability has served horses well up, until the last one hundred years or so: it provided them the ability to stay close to, and to quickly rejoin, the herd.  In those days, staying alone was not conducive to a long life! By controlling the rate of healing, the amount of scar tissue and bone can be reduced and controlled to produce a smoother surface.

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