Surgery Often Trumps Medicine for Treating Cranial Nuchal Bursitis in Horses

Cranial nuchal bursitis occurs when nuchal ligament (located near the horse’s poll) bursae become inflamed and sometimes infected. It generally causes pain, limited head and neck flexion, and poor performance.
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cranial nuchal bursitis
García-López said cranial nuchal bursitis in a large number of dressage and event horses which, in order to do their job, need to have significant neck and poll flexion. This which makes the nuchal ligament put repetitive pressure on the nuchal bursa and can lead to inflammation, but he said researchers aren't sure why some horses suffer from cranial nuchal bursitis and others don't. | Photo: iStock

In many horse health scenarios, it’s common practice to try conservative medical treatment before opting for surgery. But researchers recently determined that skipping straight to surgery appears most effective for treating horses with an uncommon condition which affects the poll called cranial nuchal bursitis.

Cranial nuchal bursitis occurs when one of the three bursae (a sack filled with synovial fluid near the joint) of the nuchal ligament (a ligament near the poll) becomes inflamed and sometimes infected. It generally causes inflammation, pain, limited head and neck flexion, and poor performance. In some cases it can involve a bacterial infection and associated oozing lesions.

Horses that fully recover from cranial nuchal bursitis have a fair chance of going back to their previous work level, but those chances might be enhanced if owner and veterinarians opt for surgery as a first line of treatment instead of medicine alone. This is especially true for certain types of the disease, said José M. García-López, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, ACVSMR, associate professor of large animal surgery and equine sports medicine director at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, in North Grafton, Massachusetts

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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