Treating Suspensory Injuries with Fetlock Support Shoes

Veterinarians determined that a modern version the so-called fetlock support shoe could be helpful in treating suspensory desmopathy in horses.

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Veterinarians and farriers apply a wide variety of horseshoes to treat the plethora of hoof problems that come our horses’ way, not to mention issues farther up the limb. Injuries to the suspensory ligament (a structure crucial to a horse's limb support system) are notoriously difficult to treat, so veterinarians recently tested a modern version of an age-old solution—the so-called fetlock support shoe—to determine its suitability as a suspensory desmopathy treatment. Nat White, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, reviewed the condition and the study results at the 2013 American Association of Equine Practitioners' Convention, held Dec. 7-11 in Nashville, Tenn.

Suspensory desmopathy is a condition that can result in ligament weakening and stretching, and subsequent excessive fetlock dropping or sinking during weight bearing. While it usually affects the hind limbs, suspensory desmopathy can also occur in the front limbs. Treatment success with traditional options—including rest, support bandages, and anti-inflammatory medication—has been limited. Veterinarians have also started using stem cell or protein-rich plasma (PRP) injection directly into affected ligaments in an attempt to improve healing. Additionally, many affected horses' condition can improve with surgical procedures, such as cutting the deep branch of the lateral plantar nerve (located just below the hock) and splitting the injured segment of the ligament to stimulate healing. White noted however, it is rare for lameness due to rear limb desmopathy associated a dropped fetlock to resolve with rest, shockwave, or surgery.

The fetlock support shoe includes a hammock like structure attached to the back of a shoe, which braces the rear of the fetlock to prevent excessive sinking during weight bearing

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Written by:

Nancy S. Loving, DVM, owns Loving Equine Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and has a special interest in managing the care of sport horses. Her book, All Horse Systems Go, is a comprehensive veterinary care and conditioning resource in full color that covers all facets of horse care. She has also authored the books Go the Distance as a resource for endurance horse owners, Conformation and Performance, and First Aid for Horse and Rider in addition to many veterinary articles for both horse owner and professional audiences.

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