Lameness Examinations

Equine Lameness

Lameness is a term used to describe a horse’s change in movement, usually in response to pain somewhere in a limb, but also possibly as a result of a mechanical restriction. We all think of lameness when a horse is obviously limping, but lameness may only cause a subtle change or even just a decreased ability or willingness to perform.

A horse can become lame from a variety of causes and some conditions are more easily diagnosed and treated than others. Certain breeds and disciplines are more commonly predisposed to developing specific lameness conditions.  Examples include arthritis in the knee (carpus) in racehorses, hock arthritis in reigning horses, and hind limb suspensory lameness in dressage horses.

It’s important to know that the site and nature of the injury cannot necessarily be determined based on the appearance of the lameness or the way a horse moves.

The Lameness Exam

The lameness exam is a multi-step methodical veterinary exam wherein a veterinarian tries to determine where the pain in a limb originates and the nature of that pain. Only once a diagnosis is made can the best treatments be chosen.

Generally, lameness exams consist of a careful history, a standing exam, an moving exam, flexions and hoof tester, nerve or joint blocks, and possible imaging the site of injury. Advanced imaging such as radiographs and ultrasound help expand on the findings from all of the above parts of the lameness exam.

Treatment Options

Ultimately, the treatment selected will depend on many factors, including the diagnosis and your budget.

Examples of veterinary treatments used to address various lameness diagnoses include: Joint injections of steroids and other substances to reduce inflammation and pain. Systemic anti-inflammatories to manage multiple pain sources, to manage chronic pain in older horses, and as an adjunct to more specific therapies used.

There are also a multitude of other newer therapies available including Shockwave, Stem Cell Injection, Injection of Platelet Rich Plasma, Autologous Conditioned Serum, IRAP and others.  These are generally classed as “regenerative therapies” wherein the body is manipulated in some way to heal itself without externally derived medications. 

Complementary therapies like acupuncture, chiropractic, massage and other treatments have additional value in when used on the appropriate cases.