Bony Changes in the Equine Neck

Researchers found that many horses not diagnosed with neck pain had bony changes in the cervical spine.
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Even though veterinarians image necks frequently, many pathological changes aren’t likely visible via routine radiographic imaging, and horses might have changes without showing obvious signs of discomfort. | Photo: Thinkstock
Neck pain and stiffness are common problems veterinarians treat in performance horses. And it’s no wonder, considering the length of the equine neck and its necessary function in turning, balancing, collecting, and—unrelated to performance—grazing. Scientists recently showed that even horses without obvious signs of neck pain or stiffness might have abnormal bony changes there.

While veterinarians commonly image the neck and inject the cervical vertebrae for pain management, there’s little research describing bone pathologies in the equine neck, said Kevin Haussler, DVM, DC, PhD, Dipl. ACVSMR, of Colorado State University, at the 2017 American Association of Equine Practitioners’ Convention, held Nov. 17-21 in San Antonio, Texas.

To better understand equine neck issues, Haussler and fellow researchers investigated the cervical spines of euthanized horses, resulting in their study, “Characterization of Bony Changes Localized to the Cervical Articular Processes in Horses.” The team included Hilary Clayton, BVMS, PhD, MRCVS, Dipl. ACVSMR, and Roy Pool, DVM, PhD.

The horse’s neck includes seven cervical vertebrae (C1 through C7, basically the poll to base of the neck), each of which has bony protrusions called articular processes that interlock with the adjacent vertebrae

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Michelle Anderson is the former digital managing editor at The Horse. A lifelong horse owner, Anderson competes in dressage and enjoys trail riding. She’s a Washington State University graduate and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications with a minor in business administration and extensive coursework in animal sciences. She has worked in equine publishing since 1998. She currently lives with her husband on a small horse property in Central Oregon.

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