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Lower Leg Fractures

Lower leg fractures can affect any horse but are relatively common among racehorses and horses that function at high speeds. Thanks to advances in equine research and medicine, catastrophic (irreparable) injuries only occur in approximately two out of every 1,000 horses that start races1. More commonly seen are less severe injuries that can now be repaired due to recent technology and progressive approaches to treating and preventing these injuries.

Recent research conducted by the Equine Research Coordination Group (ERCG) identifies risk factors for development of lower leg fractures in horses. These include:

  • Condition of the joints. Duration of the activity and age of the horse must be taken into account as well as general “wear and tear.”
  • Medical history. If the horse has history of or develops osteoporosis and the degree of the disease.
  • Shape of the joint. If the joint shape is abnormal, the stress across the joint surface will be uneven. When the joint surface is uneven, unequal pressure is placed on the bones and constant pressure can eventually crack those bones.
  • State of the track or running surface. The harder the surface the more likely a fracture will occur.

 

According to the ERCG, observation is the first step in prevention. Since most abnormalities in the joints occur during the rapid growth period early in the foal’s life, it is extremely important to have your trainer and a licensed veterinarian monitor their growth before beginning training.  

There are several imaging techniques available to detect fractures early, such as nuclear scintigraphy, digital radiology, magnetic resonance imaging, and computed tomography. While these tools are generally only found in hospital settings, current research is being dedicated to developing methods of detection on the field.

Additionally, inertial sensor technology exists that monitors the use of the leg and, through the interpretation of the force with which the foot hits the ground, can tell if there is an imbalance. Furthermore, genetic research along with biomarker technology are constantly in progress and will essentially be able to predict early breakdown of joint surfaces as well as bone quality before any signs of lameness appear.

The research is ongoing and, with continued effort, there is definitely a positive outlook on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of lower leg fractures.

Sources:
1Lenz, Dr. Thomas R. "Lower Leg Fractures." American Quarter Horse Journal. (2011): 10. Print.


*This is a summary of an article in The American Quarter Horse Journal written by Dr. Thomas R. Lenz.

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