Imaging the Equine Back and Neck

Learn how veterinarians diagnose pathology in these difficult-to-visualize regions of the horse’s body in this article from the Summer 2023 issue of The Horse.
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This X ray image shows a normal myelogram. Fluid (long arrows) surrounding the spinal cord (short arrow) looks like bright white layers on either side of the cord because of the presence of the dye.
This X ray image shows a normal myelogram. Fluid (long arrows) surrounding the spinal cord (short arrow) looks like bright white layers on either side of the cord because of the presence of the dye. | Courtesy Dr. Elizabeth Acutt

How veterinarians diagnose pathology in these difficult-to-visualize regions of the horse’s body

It started with a sour attitude while tacking up, then progressed to stiffness under saddle, difficulty making transitions, and a poor-quality canter. Now your horse is throwing in uncharacteristic bucks during rides. He might not be simply misbehaving; he might be telling you his neck or back hurts.

While we typically think of limb lameness as being the main reason for performance limitations in horses, problems within the spine can also cause reduced athleticism, changes in behavior, altered movement, weakness, neurologic signs, and even lameness. To investigate a suspicion of pathology (disease or damage) originating from this area, veterinarians often pursue diagnostic imaging of these regions. The challenge is large groups of stabilizing muscles that can impede visualization surround these structures. So, what are our options for imaging them? In this article I’ll describe the modalities veterinarians use, based on case studies designed to exemplify those we often see in the field

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We at The Horse work to provide you with the latest and most reliable news and information on equine health, care, management, and welfare through our magazine and TheHorse.com. Our explanatory journalism provides an understandable resource on important and sometimes complex health issues. Your subscription will help The Horse continue to offer this vital resource to horse owners of all breeds, disciplines, and experience levels.

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Written by:

Elizabeth Acutt, DVM, is a resident in equine diagnostic imaging at Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomechanical Sciences, in Fort Collins.

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