Last Updated on March 18, 2022 by Allison Price
Horse fetlock injuries and disorders (ankle joint).
Horses fetlock is the name for a joint between horses cannon and pastern bones. It is also known as the horse’s ankle. The sesamoid is a small bone located at the rear of the horse’s fetlock. Horses’ legs are not like humans ankles and have no muscles. They are actually more similar to our fingers than our arms and legs.
The complex fetlock joint is complex and high-motion. It is supported by several soft tissue structures that play an important role in horses movement. Many injuries to horses’ fetlocks involve the joint or surrounding soft tissue. These are common problems in performance horses and sport horses, often due to strains or injury.
Fetlock injuries, disorders
Horses can sustain a variety of fetlock injuries.
Most injuries reported do not involve a bone fracture. Fetlock injuries can result from repetitive motion of the joint, such as osteoarthritis. Synovitis and capsulitis can occur in the fetlock joint. Additionally, the supporting ligaments (the Suspensory Ligament branch and Distal Sesamoidean Ligaments), can become inflamed (Sesamoiditis). Sesamoid bone injuries (the back of your fetlock) have been recognized as a common injury in jumping horses.
Osteoarthritis of the fetlock joint, which is common and non-clinical, is a common condition. There is no cure and it can cause clinical signs like synovitis, capsuleitis, pain, and significant reduction in mobility if not treated.
A common injury to horses’ fetlock regions is seen mostly in horses that are high-performance (eventing, barrel racing), and involves a strain/tear of the Suspensory Ligament. This is the area where the ligament attaches to the base joint. This is often called a “fetlock strain” and can be painful and hot to the touch.
Horses can also suffer from injuries to their fetlocks. This is a genetic condition that causes abnormal tissue and connective-tissue breakdown. This condition is often found in the hind legs and can cause extreme pain. It will also show excessive weight bearing on the joint.
Chip fractures are more serious in the fetlock region. These fragments of the Fetlock Joint break off from themselves, causing inflammation and cartilage damage. This can lead to further complications and arthritic pain.
Fractures to the joints are the most serious fetlock injury. These injuries are more common in horses that jump and are highly active, and can result in the most severe scenario.
Common ways to treat horse fetlock injuries
An initial examination by a veterinarian professional is necessary. The initial examination will detect the horse’s movement range and other lameness. A MRI scan is often used to confirm the diagnosis.
All fetlock injuries can be treated with rest and recovery. Injections of corticosteroids into the joint will be necessary. Hyaluronic acid is used as a joint lubricant. Low doses are common. These injections have been shown to reduce inflammation and lameness. There are new regenerative medical methods now available, including Plasma therapy and stem cell treatment (PRP, Platelet Rich Plasma).
Ultrasound technology is often used to diagnose fetlock strains. These injuries can be treated with rest and controlled exercise.
Sometimes, cap fractures require surgery via arthroscopy. The horse must be supported for a brief period.
Sometimes, simple fractures can be treated with screws. This will compress the fracture and strengthen the joint. However, substantial fractures can sometimes lead to euthanasia due to poor prognosis.
Many owners are now looking for alternative methods to help their horses’ fetlock health, and the latest technologies have made it possible to use a variety of tools and tack.
I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!