How to treat extensor tendon injuries in horses

Written by cate burnette
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The extensor tendon of a horse runs down the front of each cannon bone in the lower leg and allows the horse to extend the foot and lift the toe. Because the leg of a horse is so vascular (full of circulatory tissue), any injury to the tendon is prone to extensive bleeding and inflammation. Horses with extensor tendon injuries usually recover to a full riding life with proper home treatment and good veterinary care.

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Things you need

  • • Cold, running water
  • • Sterile cotton wadding
  • • Stretch gauze or Vet Wrap bandages
  • • Cold water pressure bandages or ice
  • • Medications including NSAIDs, DMSO or capsaicin, and prescription antibiotics and analgesics
  • • Stall or small, enclosed area

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  1. 1

    Treat an open wound by first washing the leg with cold, running water. The water will remove loose debris and help the blood to clot. Wrap the wound in sterile cotton wadding plus stretch gauze or Vet Wrap bandages and have a veterinarian examine your horse as soon as possible.

  2. 2

    Continue cold therapy with ice or cold water pressure bandages three or four times a day for 20 minutes each time. This will constrict the blood vessels and slow any inflammatory responses. After inflammation has been reduced (usually about a week), alternate cold water therapy with warm moist heat several times a day. The warm water will increase blood flow to the injured area and help restore flexibility to the tendon.

  3. 3

    Remove your horse's shoes to lower the heel and straighten the fetlock joint. This allows the extensor tendon to relax and begin to heal.

  4. 4

    Administer medications as directed by the veterinarian. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents will reduce inflammation and pain. Use a topical application of DMSO or capsaicin to lower inflammatory response only if the injury is closed. Sodium hyaluronate injected by a veterinarian will maintain fluid around the tendon and prevent adhesions.

  5. 5

    Keep your horse on stall rest for the time recommended by the veterinarian--usually two weeks to a month, until inflammation and pain has significantly decreased.

  6. 6

    Massage and stretch the injured limb during stall rest two to three times a day to decrease oedema, aid in circulation, and retard the formation of fibrosis of tissues. Begin light walking two to three times a day for 20 to 30 minutes at a time when the veterinarian recommends it (usually two weeks to a month after injury).

Tips and warnings

  • Compliance with veterinarian recommendations will greatly increase your horse's chances of a complete recovery.
  • Make sure to have bandage materials and non-prescription medications on hand at all times in case of injury.
  • Not keeping your horse on stall rest the entire time may allow him to further injure the tendon causing irreparable damage. Monitor your horse for gastric ulcers as long-term administration of NSAIDs can cause stomach upset. If you choose to topically administer DMSO or capsaicin to your horse's leg, be sure to wear surgical gloves, as these medications can be toxic to humans.

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