New Diagnostics Help Decipher Navicular Pain

Horses that had intermittent lameness; pointing a foot; soreness to hoof testers over the frog; shifting leg lameness; contracted, upright feet; and stabbing toes, shortened stride movement were candidates for Navicular Disease.
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One of the most exciting aspects of Sport Horse Medicine recently is the work being done with diagnosing lameness that involves the back half of the foot in equine athletes. This means deciphering all the anatomical structures in the region that may be potentially injured, identifying the injury to the structure and then applying an appropriate treatment that is most likely to return the horse to competition.

Historically, the area of the back part of the foot has been dominated by the navicular bone, and yes, this is a vital structure in that area. Horses that had intermittent lameness; pointing a foot; soreness to hoof testers over the frog; shifting leg lameness; contracted, upright feet; and stabbing toes, shortened stride movement were candidates for Navicular Disease. If the veterinarian could improve or alleviate the lameness by “blocking the heels” of the foot, this gave added confidence to the idea that the navicular bone was the cause of the problem. Usually, radiographs may or may not further incriminate the navicular bone. Then treatment was instituted to relieve stresses on the bone, or other structures in the region, often with varied success.

Recently, with the advent of improved and innovative diagnostic modalities for the horse, veterinarians are better able to truly define the structure(s) injured, the type of injury, severity of the injury and thus, have a better idea of the prognosis to return to the previous level of activity. This means injury to the back part of the foot can be better categorized and hopefully treated more effectively.

Some of these diagnostic tools are improvement in existing technology, better understanding by veterinarians of the findings or new technology adapted for use in the equine athlete

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Written by:

Duncan Peters, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVSMR, ISELP, is the co-owner and founder of East-West Equine Sports Medicine and focuses his practice on locomotor pathology and the diagnosis, treatment, and management of sport horse health for optimum performance. A University of California, Davis, graduate, Peters has also served as as director of the Clinical Equine Sports Medicine Program and associate professor of Large Animal Clinical Sciences at Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. An FEI veterinarian, he was member of the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games’ veterinary commission. Peters is an active horse owner and competes hunter-jumpers.

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