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Arthritis, its causes and treatment...
Arthritis, its causes and treatment...


Arthritis in the horse is a common problem.  It can take many forms, many of which are specific to the activity of that individual.  Arthritis can be related to conformation, use, accidents, age, and nutrition.  Management of this disease may involve medication, shoeing, and supplementation.  As you can see, completion of this paper may take weeks!

The seriousness of arthritis depends on the affect it has on performance. This usually relates to the degree of pain or discomfort the arthritis causes to the patient.  It can however, affect performance due to the physical limitation it places on the joint.   If the joint is swollen due to an accumulation of bone, we call that arthritis. This bone is hard and lacks flexibility so the extent of this joint’s movement will only be what the new bone allows.

Other ways arthritis affects performance is by causing discomfort during movement.  When there is an injury to bone, the body attempts to heal it by pouring new bone onto the site.  Just as a scab forms on the skin in response to a wound, a layer of early bone will be deposited over the injured area.  This occurs much slower than what we see happen on the skin.  The problem arises because the deposit of bone may not be smooth.  If the deposit is uneven, there will be small random pieces of bone about the size of sand.  If this boney "sand" is in a joint or under a tendon, you can see where there could be a problem. With movement, the ‘sand’ is ground between the two bones of the joint.  If the deposit is under a tendon, the tendon slides back and forth over the arthritis each time the leg is used.   Just the description sounds painful!

The objective of our treatment varies with the cause and age of the injury.  If the injury is new and boney changes are not yet visible on an Xray, we will try to slow the healing process to allow the deposit of new bone to be organized and smooth.  We may elect to apply medicine topically that will penetrate the skin and reduce inflammation of the injury site on the bone.  This relieves pain as well as slowing the build-up of new bone.  We will also medicate the horse orally for several weeks with an anti-inflammatory medicine.  This will also relieve pain and inflammation at the injury site.

An additional benefit of pain relief is to encourage Dobbin to move about.  When pain prevents physical activity several changes occur in the patient.  The structures around the injury site (tendons, ligaments, and muscles) will lose some of their elasticity.  Some of the muscles will tighten to support those in the injured area.  This enlarges the area of pain making the patient even more reluctant to move because he is expecting pain with each movement.  He will even be reluctant to use the area after treatment and healing.  We will be more specific about treatment as we discuss each class of arthritis.

Of course with spring arriving, what horse or horse person can resist the pleasure of being out and enjoying the new growth.  It is our objective to make this time as comfortable as we can, at least for the horse!

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