Equine muscle injuries are often elusive, leading to frustration for the rider and a challenging diagnosis for the veterinarian. Since muscle injury can accompany and/or mimic skeletal problems, tendon or ligament injury, or neurological disease, diagnosis can be quite complicated. The best way to prevent muscle injury is to keep horses in regular exercise programs and avoid demanding more of them than their level of conditioning permits. It is also very important to maintain a consistent feeding program appropriate to each horse's level of fitness and energy requirements to avoid metabolic problems such as tying-up.


Assessment of suspected muscle damage should begin with a complete history, including any chronic or recent lameness problems, loss of condition, or attitude change, as well as any abnormalities under saddle noticed by the rider or trainer. A physical examination should follow–this includes listening to the heart and lungs, evaluating musculature symmetry, palpating major muscle groups to locate any focal areas of soreness, and palpating and assessing range of motion of the neck and legs. Depending on clinical signs, a complete blood count and/or serum chemistry might also be done to evaluate muscle enzyme levels and rule out systemic disease, which can secondarily cause discomfort or muscle injury.

A thorough lameness examination–and perhaps diagnostic imaging–will help rule out skeletal, tendon, and ligament injuries as the primary source of pain. The horse should be examined walking and trotting in hand on a straight line and on a circle. Observation under saddle might also be necessary, as discomfo