Diagnosing and Treating Equine Muscle Injuries

While not frequently diagnosed, equine muscle injuries can cause pain, lameness, and poor performance in horses.
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equine muscle injuries
Stretching exercises can start on Day 1 of revocery if they can be done without causing pain, Turner said. | Photo: Alexandra Beckstett/The Horse
Sitting a sudden spook, lifting a bale of hay the wrong way, or chasing a loose horse around the farm are just a few of the ways equestrians can pull, tear, or otherwise damage a muscle. We’re all aware of how painful such injuries can be and how tempting (or even necessary) it might be to spend a few days out of the saddle.

Muscle injuries aren’t uncommon for riders. But have you noticed that, overall, there’s little talk of muscle injuries in our horses? That’s because, said Tracy Turner, DVM, MS, Dipl., ACVS, ACVSMR, “muscle pain and injury as a cause of lameness and poor performance in the horse are poorly recognized.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that such injuries don’t exist. Turner, who owns Turner Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery, in Big Lake, Minnesota, reviewed what veterinarians know about diagnosing and treating muscle injuries at the 2016 American Association of Equine Practitioners’ Convention, held Dec. 3-7 in Orlando, Florida.

Turner said muscle conditions such as fibrotic myopathy, stringhalt, tying up, and post-exercise fatigue are better recognized than general muscle injury in horses. The first two are usually more associated with gait abnormalities and the latter two are considered specific physiologic disturbances, he 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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