Navicular Syndrome Treatment: The Brave New World

In spite of the best care given to horses in the history of their domesticated lives, record numbers of carefully bred, reared, and trained saddle horses are prevented from fully athletic lives by the crippling disease known as navicular syndrome.”n spite of the best
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In spite of the best care given to horses in the history of their domesticated lives, record numbers of carefully bred, reared, and trained saddle horses are prevented from fully athletic lives by the crippling disease known as "navicular syndrome." More a condition than a disease, navicular syndrome mystifies the veterinary profession by existing on several levels, and by defying the rules for both diagnosis and prognosis as set down by medical guidelines.

On the most basic level, navicular syndrome might almost be any lameness that is traced to the posterior part of the horse’s foot. In most horses, one or both front feet are affected. Veterinarians use a variety of diagnostic tools–flexion tests, hoof testers, radiographs and nerve blocks–to look for signs of lameness in the foot. A poster-ior digital nerve block "numbs" this part of the foot, and many horses will walk soundly when the nerves are blocked.

Radiographs, usually a key diagnostic tool for a veterinarian, often can be misleading if other tests do not confirm the location of the lameness. Examination of the navicular bones of hundreds of dead horses has shown that many sound horses have competed to old age without ever showing any signs of lameness or weakness, even though their navicular bones are riddled with "lollipops" and "cones," which are tiny indentations in the edge of the bone. Still other horses have spotlessly clean radiographs, but have problems with the way that the deep digital flexor tendon passes under the navicular bone, where it actually might "stick" to the bone and form blistery adhesions, making each step a painful experience for the horse.

In most horses, radiographs of the navicular bones are difficult–and sometimes even dangerous–for the veterinarian to shoot, since several angles require the veterinarian to stand in close under the horse while focusing the radiographic beam

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Fran Jurga is the publisher of Hoofcare & Lameness, The Journal of Equine Foot Science, based in Gloucester, Mass., and Hoofcare Online, an electronic newsletter accessible at www.hoofcare.com. Her work also includes promoting lameness-related research and information for practical use by farriers, veterinarians, and horse owners. Jurga authored Understanding The Equine Foot, published by Eclipse Press and available at www.exclusivelyequine.com or by calling 800/582-5604.

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