What are the causes of equine swelling & stiffness in the hind legs?

Written by kimberly harris
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What are the causes of equine swelling & stiffness in the hind legs?
Swelling and stiffness in the hind legs of a horse can have many different causes. (horse image by Witold Krasowski from Fotolia.com)

There are a variety of conditions that can cause swelling and stiffness in the hind legs of horses. Some of these conditions can be easily and quickly treated, while others can produce life-ending complications. It is important to check with your veterinarian to determine the cause of the swelling and stiffness and to develop a treatment plan specific to your horse's condition.

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Bog Spavin

Bog Spavin is a soft swelling of the hock joint resulting from an accumulation of fluid in the joint space. Poor hock conformation causes a weakness in the joint area, leading to an overproduction of synovial fluid. Trauma and stressful exercise may also contribute to the horse's susceptibility. This condition does not usually cause lameness in the horse, but he may experience some tenderness at the site. The fluid is usually drained and the horse is treated with corticosteroids. Bog Spavin will often recur, especially if poor hock conformation is present.

Stifle Disese

The stifle is a complex hinge joint much like a human knee. Trauma as well as several different diseases can cause pain and swelling of the stifle. Stifle diseases are usually divided into two main categories: acquired and developmental.

Acquired disorders include arthritis, degenerative joint disease (DJD), fractures and trauma, such as cruciate ligament injury. Symptoms of acquired disorders usually appear suddenly, with obvious swelling and lameness.

Developmental stifle disorders are congential (present at birth) and usually affect foals and young horses. Congenital disorders may or may not be genetic. Signs of swelling and mild lameness usually first appear as the horse begins training and may be subtle at first. As the horse continues to exercise, the symptoms become more severe. Developmental disorders include osteochondritis dissecans (OCD), subchondral bone cysts and patellar luxation.


Curb is a condition caused by damage to the plantar ligament, which helps stabilise the hock joint. The damaged ligament becomes inflamed and stimulates production of new bone growth, which results in a thickened appearance. Symptoms of curb include swelling on the back of the hind leg, just below the hock, and pain at the location of the swelling. Trauma, as well as poor conformation caused by sickle or cow hocks, can lead to curb.


Tying-up is a collection of clinical signs that include sweating, stiffness and a reluctance to move forward. These are actually signs of pain resulting from muscle cramps, and the condition most severe in the rear legs. Although horses may have similar symptoms the actual cause of the muscle cramping may be different in each horse. Tying-up can be sporadic or chronic. Some common causes of muscle damage causing sporadic tie-up include extreme exercise and overuse, trauma, inadequate blood circulation (often a result of the horse lying on its side during surgery) and exercising after a viral infection. Chronic tying-up can be the result of a nutrient imbal­ance, or a disease called Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (an excess of sugar stored in the muscles) that commonly affects Quarter Horse-related breeds, Draft horses and Warmbloods.

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