Detecting Soft-Tissue Injuries in the Hoof: Ultrasound vs. MRI

Ultrasound is a useful screening tool for assessing some deep digital flexor tendon lesions, but it could cause veterinarians to underestimate navicular bursa and collateral sesamoidean ligament lesions.
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Ultrasound of equine deep digital flexor tendon
An ultrasound showing a dorsal tear in the lateral lobe of the deep digital flexor tendon. | Photo: Courtesy Dr. Myra Barrett

Horse hooves might be hard on the outside, but they contain many soft-tissue structures within. When horses sustain injuries to these structures, veterinarians rely on imaging to diagnose. Unfortunately, said Myra Barrett, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVR, “the foot is particularly challenging to image—there are only so many ways we can see it.”

The gold standard is MRI. However, it’s cost-prohibitive for some owners and not all veterinarians have access to a unit. Radiography can reveal problems in the hoof, but it’s more useful for bony structures than soft tissue. And ultrasound is useful for imaging tendons and ligaments in other areas of the body, but it hasn’t been clear how it stacks up to MRI for imaging the hoof.

So Barrett, an assistant professor of veterinary diagnostic imaging at Colorado State University’s (CSU) College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, in Fort Collins, and colleagues set out to compare the two. She presented the results of her prospective study at the 2017 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Nov. 17-21 in San Antonio, Texas

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Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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