Equine Joint Disease
How can Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging help diagnose Equine Joint Disease?
The owner asked me to perform a full body scan on her 12 yr, event horse who she bought last winter to compete the following spring. The mare has previously competed to BE 1* but as this is a new partnership they have so far been competing at BE100 this season.
The full body scan including the head comprises of recording uniform lateral, caudal and cranial sections of the body, (including 360-degree angles). The horse is scanned at rest (for at least 1 hr) and then again after 10 mins of moderate exercise (ideally lunging). This ensures that every report which is produced by our team of vets is as comprehensive and accurate as possible.
We advise that the first appointment be a full body screening especially if it is unclear if the issue is due to pain, behaviour or the horse has a nonspecific and difficult to diagnose lameness. Once a holistic diagnosis has been made we recommend regular region of interest scans to monitor the progress.
So far this year has unfortunately posed some issues for my client, in particular the XC phase due to refusals. Recently the rider has noticed that the saddle is not sitting straight but also that the mare’s hindquarters are not square. The saddle has been checked and the mare receives regular physio treatment from a registered Physiotherapist.
Although there have been no other symptoms or lameness to cause any major concern my client wanted a fully body screening to explore the hindquarters further as well as having a full body health check.
The following pictures are of the cranial and lateral scans taken of the front legs section (below knees) of my client’s mare which are most significant to this blog.
Betty Front View
Betty Left Fore
Betty Right Fore
Betty Front View
Betty Left Fore
Betty Right Fore
Summary of SyncThermology’s Vets Report:
- Inflammation within the shoulders which is suspected to be due to saddle fitting (may explain saddle slippage)
- hyperthermia within the left quarters (gluteal) which is suspected to represent muscular tightness through this region.
But what I found most interesting was the vet recommending my client’s vet to flexion test her mare and if positive:
- further clinical correlation of front fetlock and tarsal joint inflammation is advised. Such thermal patterns can represent degenerative joint disease and this should be investigated if there is clinical concern.
My client subsequently had her mare checked by her vet and the early onset of osteoarthritis was found in the front fetlock joints. The vet then treated the mare with corticosteroid injections.
Impact on Joints
Being the horsey geek I am I do find the anatomy of the horse fascinating and am not surprised to see the issues that commonly effect our performance horses, especially after studying the photo sequence below by Eadweard Muybridge. The report from SyncThermology’s team of vets reminded me of an article I have read by Dr Robert Bell and Professor Leo Jeffcott, who are based at the Equine Performance and Imaging Centre, University of Sydney Veterinary Teaching Hospital Camden.
The following excerpt is taken from a report on ‘Fetlock Lameness – It’s importance and how MRI can assist in making the difficult diagnosis’ which was first published in 2011.
Lameness involving the fetlock joint is an all too common problem in performance horses and racehorses. Injuries to this region may involve the joint itself or the surrounding soft tissues, and are often determined by the use of the horse. The fetlock is a complicated high motion joint that is always subjected to huge forces and stresses during locomotion. The classic movie pictures of the American photographer Eadweard Muybridge taken over 120 years ago (pictured below) clearly show the degree of extension of the fetlock during galloping in the horse.
The good news is that many fetlock problems are fairly simple to diagnose. Lameness can be localised to the fetlock by careful clinical examination (i.e. palpation), evaluation of gait (especially under saddle), response to flexion tests and nerve blocks or desensitisation of the joint itself.
I am looking forward to monitoring my client’s horse progress and what will be most interesting to see is whether the mare’s performance during cross country improves. If so there is no doubt in my mind that the problems were caused by the mare experiencing pain in her front fetlocks. A question I also hope to see answered is whether the tightness in the mare’s left hind quarters is secondary to the osteoarthritis? If there is an improvement I am sure the tightness in the left gluteal muscle was due to the mare carrying herself in a way so as not put too much weight on her front legs.
Since the report, I referred to the above by Dr Robert Bell and Professor Leo Jeffcott was written in 2011, the case has also demonstrated the importance of Veterinary DITI. Especially in this case the joint condition was certainly detected before it caused any lameness. My experience of SyncEquine’s scanning process and seeing the SyncThermology vet reports for the horses I have scanned has proved that the technology and the way we use it is most definitely an effective and invaluable diagnostic tool. The camera can certainly detect where the cause of the problem lies, identify early what the issue is and then monitor the progress of the horse.
Contributor: Louise Crow
SyncEquine Imaging Technician: SyncThermology specialises in DITI (Digital Infrared Thermographic Imaging) which research has proved an effective tool to early identify musculoskeletal and neurological injuries, in particular non-specific and difficult to diagnose lameness. www.syncthermology.com