Normal joint cartilage is a protective surface to the bones which, along with the synovial fluid bathing the joint capsule, allows smooth movement of a joint during motion.

Continual wear and tear on the delicate cartilages and associated soft tissues (particularly in the fetlock and knee or hock) from loading during performance/competition work can lead to joint disease.

The ongoing trauma-repair battle amid the negative effects of associated inflammation, eventually stimulates the body to produce extra bone around the joint in an attempt to stabilise it, this is the hallmark of osteoarthritis. It is a progressive disease that will affect the large majority of competition horses at some point and although cannot be cured, regimes can be implemented to slow the process and alleviate associated pain to aid performance and welfare.

For definitive diagnosis and a more accurate prognosis, nerve block assessments and often x-rays are indicated. Both steps in diagnostics are important as bony change seen on x-rays, may not necessarily be the cause of the lameness, and may be the historic remnants of old issues.

There are many varied management and drug regimes which help to alleviate the symptoms and pain associated with degenerative joint disease/arthritis:

Oral anti-inflammatories such as Bute are useful in dampening the joints’ over-reaction to chronic stress injuries. They are ideal for use between events as the joint recovers to prevent detrimental effects of inflammation.

Injectables such as Corticosteroid give a more direct treatment of inflammatory joint problems. Joint supplements direct into joint or via muscle/vein injection for more direct absorption.

Where an obvious acute injury has occurred that may trigger early onset of arthritis, surgery and careful management/exercise regimes may be useful alongside joint support to speed up the body’s repair and prevent further damage to the area. Surgery can also be useful to assess the full degree of damage and resultant prognosis in large joints giving more detail than radiographs and ultrasound scans.

It is important that horses continue with light exercise to keep joints supple through winter and when spelling – especially older horses who have a much greater risk of suffering from clinical signs of arthritis.

Contact Franklin Vets for the best treatment options for your horse.