A New Way to Detect Humeral Stress Fractures in Racehorses

Researchers confirmed that ultrasound is a useful and economical screening tool to identify humeral stress fractures and can be used with radiography to monitor healing.
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humeral stress fractures
Researchers confirmed that ultrasound is a useful and economical screening tool to identify stress fractures in the horse’s humerus—the bone between the shoulder and elbow joints—and can be used with radiography to monitor healing. | Photo: iStock

Detecting stress fractures early in is an important part of preventing catastrophic outcomes in equine athletes. But it can be difficult to spot these tiny cracks, especially in a horse’s humerus—the bone between the shoulder and elbow joints—without access to nuclear scintigraphy (bone scan) equipment. But veterinarians recently described a way to do so with a more accessible and affordable approach: ultrasound.

“Humeral stress fractures are well-described in the racing population and can progress to catastrophic fracture if unrecognized,” said Betsy Vaughan, DVM, Dipl. ACVSMR, associate clinical professor of large animal ultrasound at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine.

Nuclear scintigraphy remains the gold standard for diagnosing humeral stress fractures, she said, but it can be expensive and is not available in all locations. Moreover, “radiography can be unreliable to detect stress fractures in the humerus, due to their upper limb location and the time required for sufficient bone remodeling to occur, such that such defects are visible radiographically,” she said

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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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