How MRI Helps Manage Hock, Suspensory Ligament Injuries

Vets can use MRI to help diagnose injuries, select treatments, monitor healing progress, and determine prognosis.
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How MRI Helps Manage Hock, Suspensory Ligament Injuries
Hock and suspensory ligament problems are common in performance horses. | Stephanie L. Church/The Horse
When it comes to diagnosing injured horses, imaging can be a veterinarian’s right-hand man. These tools allow the practitioner to see under your horse’s skin to help diagnose injuries, select appropriate treatments, monitor healing progress, and determine prognosis.

This even holds true for injuries to the proximal metatarsal and tarsal region, which includes the hock joints and the surrounding bony and soft-tissue structures (proximal suspensory ligament). Problems in this area are common in performance horses and have variable presentations that can make them challenging to diagnose accurately with traditional imaging modalities (X rays and ultrasound), said Matt Brokken, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, ACVSMR, a clinical assistant professor at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, in Columbus. At the 2016 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 3-7 in Orlando, Florida, Brokken reviewed how he uses MRI to help take some of the mystery out of diagnosing and treating such injuries.

Magnetic resonance imaging uses magnetic fields to create cross-sectional and three-dimensional images of both bony and soft tissue structures, allowing the veterinarian to clearly visualize multiple tissue types at once. Veterinarians might recommend it after performing a thorough lameness examination and localizing the issue to the proximal suspensory or lower tarsal region (using diagnostic analgesia), but when radiography and ultrasonography are inconclusive, Brokken said.

Veterinarians can use MRI to assess internal structures’ shape (to check for fractures or tears) and size (i.e., inflammation or atrophy), as well as signal intensity (which can indicate edema or fluid collecting in bones or soft tissue). Brokken recommended, when possible, performing MR examinations on the affected limb as well as the contralateral limb for comparison (for subtle changes), as well as to check for bilateral (on both sides) disease

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Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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