Bone Loss and Racehorse Breakdowns: What’s the Connection?

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine have linked bone loss to proximal sesamoid bone fractures in California racehorses.
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Bone Loss and Racehorse Breakdowns: What
The most common fatal injury in racehorses in the United States, PSB fractures account for 45-50% of such injuries in Thoroughbreds and 37-40% in racing Quarter Horses. | Photo: iStock
recent study by Sarah Shaffer, Susan Stover, DVM, PhD, and colleagues at the J.D. Wheat Veterinary Orthopedic Research Laboratory at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine sought to characterize bone abnormalities that precede proximal sesamoid bone (PSB) fractures and determine if pre-existing abnormalities are associated with these fractures. The group retrospectively studied cases from California Thoroughbred racehorses that died from PSB fractures and controls that died for other reasons.

The most common fatal injury in racehorses in the United States, PSB fractures account for 45-50% of such injuries in Thoroughbreds and 37-40% in racing Quarter Horses. The PSBs are two comparatively small bones located in the fetlock that act as part of the suspensory apparatus. Fractures in these bones are likely due to the accumulation of repeated, stress-related processes. This is supported by evidence that racehorses in intensive training are at higher risk for PSB fractures, but the exact causes are not well understood.

Other repetitive overuse injuries in horses are known to be bilateral in nature, meaning they are similar on both sides of the horse, with the more severely affected limb usually incurring the fracture. With this in mind, the researchers looked at both the fractured PSB and the intact PSB from the opposing limb of the same horse for all cases. They hypothesized that horses with PSB fractures would also show evidence of stress in the PSB of the opposite limb and that the bone that sustained the break would show more severe changes than the intact bone.

The results showed that 90% of the fractured PSBs had visible discoloration on the surface of the fracture, most commonly (70% of the time) in a characteristic crescent pattern. Directly below the cartilage, the researchers noted evidence of bone loss in 70% of cases. This bone loss was in the same region as the discolorations. Fractured PSBs had lower bone volume fraction and tissue mineral density within the lesion sites than comparable locations in opposing limbs and controls. These regions were contiguous with the fracture lines. They also observed evidence of microdamage in fractured PSBs

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