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The Analysis of Joint Health in HorsesResearch Paper

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Horses have been used for racing and traveling for centuries. W ith the use of horses comes the chance of injury. Horses frequently injure their joints especially when racing. This research paper is meant to highlight which joints are injured, the kind of things that may happen to a horse's joint, joint movement, and how to maintain horses and avoid injury.

Equine Metacarpophalangeal Joint

The first place to look for in terms of equine physiology is the MCP joint. The MCP joint is the most frequently injured joint in horses. Especially racehorses in training as they injure the equine metacarpophalangeal joint or MCP regularly. Most injuries of this nature occur because of repetitive loading of the articular cartilage and subchondral bone rather than from acute events. The probability of injury is multi-factorial. However, the magnitude of perfunctory loading as well as the number of loading cycles researchers believe play an important role.

Consequently, a vital step in comprehending injury is to define the distribution of load through the articular surface in normal locomotion. "A subject-specific finite-element model of the MCP joint was developed (including deformable cartilage, elastic ligaments, muscle forces and rigid representations of bone), evaluated against measurements obtained from cadaver experiments, and then loaded using data from gait experiments." (Harrison et al. 65) The sensitivity of the model researchers stated, to force stiffness, inputs, cartilage, and cartilage geometry became an important area of study in the article. The FE model anticipated MCP joint torque as well as sesamoid bone flexion angles in five percent of experimental measurements. Cartilage stress, joint loads, and muscle -- tendon forces, all increased said the study, as locomotion speed amplified from walking to trotting, lastly cantering.

Agitations to muscle -- tendon forces gave rise to small changes in articular cartilage stresses, while variations in joint torque, stiffness, and cartilage geometry produced much bigger effects. "Non-subject-specific cartilage geometry changed the magnitude and distribution of pressure and the von Mises stress markedly. The mean and peak cartilage stresses generally increased with an increase in cartilage stiffness." (Harrison et al. 65) Areas of peak stress related qualitatively with locations of common injury, signifying that further exhibiting work may clarify the kinds of loading that herald joint injury and may help in the development of practices for injury mitigation.

Another study that observed the MCP and MTP joints wanted to examine the joints because they are the common site of lameness within the Thoroughbred racehorse. They went on to state radiographs might be unsuccessful in showing pathology constant with the degree of lameness. Along with a high occurrence of stress fractures happening in the MC3/MT3 or distal third metacarpal/metatarsal condyles and proximal phalanx, a conclusive diagnosis as to the nature of such pathology is indispensable.

Therefore, the researchers sought to describe the MRI/low-field magnetic resonance imaging findings in Thoroughbred racehorses that had MCP/MTP joint pain scanned while under standing sedation. Their results demonstrated a common finding, identified it as palmar/plantar osteochondral disease within the MC3/MT3, and found it in 54.9% of horses. Imperfect condylar fracture was identified in 19.8% of horses, alongside the lateral condyle predominating. A partial sagittal fracure of P1 was identified in 14.5% of horses as well as 11.4% were identified with 'dorsal joint disease'. Other outcomes included transverse MC3 stress fractures, soft tissue injuries that occurred in 12.2% of the selected group and proximal phalangeal 'contusions', less than 4%.

Their conclusions stated standing MRIs could be useful in detecting joint disease in horses. "Standing MRI can detect a spectrum of disease within the MCP/MTP joints of racehorses. The procedure is well tolerated and may lead to a definitive diagnosis where radiographic imaging is inconclusive." (POWELL 169) Since radiographically confirmed diagnosis were inaccurate versus MRI examination, it can have significant prognostic and therapeutic implications that may help to thwart catastrophic injury.

Sacroiliac Joints

In a 2014 article, Goff et al. conducted a study covering the poor performance of racehorses and its possible correlation with degenerative changes within a horse's sacroiliac joints (SIJ). The objective of the study was to record the nature and frequency of changes in the SIJ surfaces of (TB) Thoroughbred racehorses as well as correlate gross morphology plus marginal new bone formation to body, age, history of back pain and weight. Results from the study indicated there was no correlation between age or bodyweight and SIJ surface range. "SIJs of the back pain group were affected by obvious gross pathology that showed certain characteristics." (Goff et al. 52)

There was however, a relationship between degree of marginal bone formation and surface area of joint. SIJs observed from the group of TBs that were categorized as not having back pain had less and fewer obvious gross results. They concluded with stating back pain can be correlated to the performance of a horse. "Clinical evidence of back pain, which may reasonably be expected to have affected the horse's racing performance, was associated with characteristic gross pathology of the SIJ." (Goff et al. 52)

Equine Infectious Joint Disease

In another study, synovial fluid samples were taken from culture-confirmed infected joints, joints with marked non-infectious synovitis, and healthy joints. Researchers collected the samples from 24 equine patients as well as 7 slaughterhouse horses. Samples from joints with non-infectious synovitis were examined with healthy joints serving as negative controls. After isolation, identification and counting of neutrophils, the percentage viability, determination by flow cytometry was performed through necrotic neutrophils and the proportion of apoptotic. The results showed higher rates of viability in infected samples versus controls. "Viability was significantly higher in infected samples compared to the controls. A significant difference in cell death type was observed, with apoptosis predominating in infected joints, and necrosis being more present in joints with pronounced non-infectious synovitis and healthy joints." (Wauters et al. 132) Highlighting after-effects like necrosis in healthy joints helps to demonstrate that flow cytometric analysis of neutrophil viability including cell death dynamics could assist the discernment among non-infected infected joints.

Maintenance and Horse Movement

A link among injury and surface characteristics has been identified within equine disciplines. Researchers report maintenance procedures affect surface characteristics as well as might influence horse movement. The study examined hoof and limb movement on an artificial surface following two dissimilar preparations (rolling and harrowing). They recorded nine horses using retro-reflective markers and infrared cameras at walk, trot and canter while on two surface preparations within a crossover design. Metacarpophalangeal joint (MCPJ) extension, hoof rotation and displacement, and third metacarpal (McIII) inclination were analyzed using a general linear model. They examined no differences in hoof displacements or hoof rotations. Along with these results, they found similarities in some preparations. "MCPJ extension at mid-stance and greater (P < 0.05) McIII adduction at impact was found when gait was grouped. Hardness and traction were statistically similar for both preparations. Alteration to the surface cushion appears to be sufficient to produce subtle changes in stride characteristics." (Northrop et al. 137) Studies like this help determine what affects joint health in relation to movement.

Joint Angles

Extemporaneous transitions from anti-phase into in-phase manual coordination can be explained in the Haken model, describing two favored states as stable regions working as attractors within a stability landscape. Substituting between states corresponds with a momentary loss of stability. Coordination inconsistency is believed to be suggestive of such a loss of steadiness. In a study on joint angles, researchers stated their hypothesis: that an upsurge in variability within the angle profiles of joints responsible for transition will lead the transition provides context into the recent exploration of gait analysis. A full gait examination of 4 miniature horses transitioning from the movements of trot to canter was performed. The results showed detection of brief perturbation within the hip joint, indicating the significance of the joint in relation to movements of the pelvis, limb, and back, making it as a main difference among asymmetrical and symmetrical gaits. "The variability of the hip joint angle of the trailing hind limb showed a peak of variability at stride 0; this was quickly reduced after the transition was completed." (Nauwelaerts, Aerts and Clayton e59)


In conclusion, equine physiology as it pertains to joint health reveals a myriad of potential problems horses can experience while racing. Racing and even walking, produces joint damage in horses, especially when transitioning from running to walking and back again. Research shows the MCP joint is the most common area for injury and standing MRIs may help in faster diagnosis. Movement should be studied in order to reduce unnecessary injury and help horses walk and run better. This can be done through analysis of joint angles and gait.


Goff, L et al. 'Sacroiliac Joint Morphology: Influence Of Age, Bodyweight And Previous Back Pain'. Equine Vet J 46 (2014): 52-52. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

Harrison, Simon M. et al. 'Evaluation Of A Subject-Specific Finite-Element Model Of The Equine Metacarpophalangeal Joint Under Physiological Load'. Journal of Biomechanics 47.1 (2014): 65-73. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.

Nauwelaerts, Sandra, Peter Aerts, and Hilary Clayton. 'Stride To Stride… [END OF PREVIEW]

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