Bone Chips in Joints

Bone chips in a horse’s movable joints can compromise the animal’s ability to perform, and, in some cases, they can even end the animal’s career. However, not all bone chips are created equal.
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Bone Chips in Joints
The good news is that veterinarians often detect bone development problems when a horse is young through X rays and, in many cases, these problems can be successfully treated. | Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Discovering a bone chip in a joint does not have to mark the end of a horse’s athletic career.

Bone chips in a horse’s movable joints can compromise the animal’s ability to perform, and, in some cases, they can even end the animal’s career. However, not all bone chips are created equal. Some are so innocuous that they cause little or no hindrance to the horse’s well-being or ability to perform.

Unfortunately, the equine joint is fragile and complicated in design and construction. The knee joint, for example, operates with eight building-block-type bones that are subjected to severe concussion when the horse is running at speed. Sometimes the stress is more than the bones can tolerate, and a piece of bone–which can vary in size from a tiny speck to something as large as the tip of a man’s finger–will “chip” off.

Fortunately for horses and their owners, when the chip causes serious problems, a veterinarian can remove the chip through arthroscopic surgery and allow the joint to return to normal (if the damage is not too severe)

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Les Sellnow was a prolific freelance writer based near Riverton, Wyoming. He specialized in articles on equine research, and operated a ranch where he raised horses and livestock. He authored several fiction and nonfiction books, including Understanding Equine Lameness and Understanding The Young Horse. He died in 2023.

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