Lameness is the most common horse complaint we receive. There are many possible causes, some of which are simple to diagnose, whilst others are far more complex. In the case of more complex lamenesses that do not swiftly resolve, we would advise continued diagnostic procedures at our clinic.

Our vets are particularly interested in, and experienced at, lameness investigations and take pride in offering a comprehensive service. 

The diagnostic tools that we frequently use include:

1) Nerve blocks: Often there is no obvious source of lameness in a leg with no swellings and no obvious injuries. So to localize the site of lameness it is common to require the use of nerve blocks. This involves injecting local anaesthetic either around some nerves (peri-neural), into a joint (intra-articular) or into tendon sheath (intra-thecal). This will temporarily (for a few hours) produce a lack of feeling to the injured structures the nerves supply and therefore remove the source of pain causing the lameness. This gives an indication to the region of a painful lesion.

So for example, if local anaesthetic is placed around the nerves behind the fetlock that supply all the structures to the foot, then if the horse then goes sound 15 minutes later, then the source of pain can be localized to the foot. This allows the vet to then focus his/her attention on the foot and pastern region of that leg.

Nerve blocks can be difficult to perform and a detailed knowledge of anatomy is essential to accurately perform and interpret the findings. If multiple nerve blocks are required (e.g. in a lameness work up) or joints/tendon sheaths are involved it is advisable to perform them in a clinic environment.

2) X-rays: This diagnostic tool is primarily associated with assessing the bones. It is useful in assessing bone fractures, bony growth within joints (osteoarthritis), and bone fragments. But it is also used to assess other structures, such as hoof balance and dentition within the skull.

Mobile XRay MachineEquine X Ray

Because of its importance in veterinary medicine, the practice has invested in digital radiography. This allows accurate images to be produced and if necessary emailed to owners and farriers. We have both a clinic based and a mobile x-ray generator so images can be taken on yards if required. However, in some cases x-rays are still best obtained at the clinic if multiple images are to be taken.

3) Ultrasound: This technique is primarily used to assess the soft tissue structures of the body (e.g. tendons, ligaments, muscles). By sending sound waves (ultra sound waves) from a probe into a body part it will be reflected back towards the probe where it can be digitally created into an image.

At BEV, we have recently invested in a new ultrasound machine with a selection of probes for varying uses. This has allowed us to get far more accurate images of lesions within body parts than ever before, and in some circumstances we can visualize abnormalities that previously could not be diagnosed.

Equine UltrasoundEquine UltrasoundDiagram of leg

Alternatively a horse may seem to have no obvious lameness but be under performing and/or uncomfortable to ride. This is termed poor performance. There are many possible reasons for this and various conditions may need to be explored. As such, this may require a more extensive investigation.

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