The horse’s stifle anatomy is extremely complex. It serves as the juncture for the femur and tibia/fibula and is comprised of three joints. Naturally, diagnosing injuries and disease processes in this joint can be challenging.

Veterinarians use both ultrasound and arthroscopy (inserting a slender arthroscope into a small incision to view a joint) to detect stifle pathology. Both have their limitations, however, so which one should you turn to first? The answer might not be cut-and-dried.

Laurie Goodrich, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, associate professor of surgery and lameness at Colorado State University’s (CSU) College of Veterinary Medicine, in Fort Collins, recently compared these two imaging modalities’ ability to diagnose stifle lesions. She presented her findings at the 2014 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 6-10 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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Goodrich first described each tool’s imaging capabilities within the stifle:

"Arthroscopy is considered the gold standard to view stifle soft tissues," she said, but veterinarians can only "observe limited aspects of the meniscus (cartilaginous tissue within the joint) due to the narrow joint space."

Ultrasound, she said, is a "valuable tool for intra-articular soft tissue evaluation and has high specificity/sensitivity in diagnosing meniscal injury."

Armed with this information, Goodrich hypothesized that ultrasound would detect more meniscus lesions, arthroscopy would detect more cartilage lesions, and that these two modali