Do you wonder why I put “Arthritis” in parenthesis? Just recently, a comment pushed me to pull out my soap box: “My horse is a little stiff. He probably has a little bit of arthritis.”
The word arthritis is probably one of the most misused words and most misunderstood afflictions regarding its cause. People in general are very quick to jump to a ‘diagnosis’ of arthritis when a horse isn’t moving as well as it should, including veterinarians unfortunately!!
There are many causes of lameness, stiffness or being a little off. Spinal misaligment, abnormal muscle tone, ligament damage, generalized inflammation from poor nutrition for example, etc. can all force a joint to undergo remodeling. Arthritis is just one of them and in general the end result of instability of a joint over time. In order to know if a joint is arthritic one has to show that pain is in fact coming from that joint, plus some form of imaging, be it radiographs, arthroscopy or ultrasound, needs to demonstrate arthritic changes. Far too often this term is thrown around lightly resulting in needless joint injections.
Even when arthritis is found, it is usually just a symptom and possibly the location of the pain, but not what caused the inflammation and compensatory changes in the joint in the first place. This is very important to understand, because if you know how arthritis comes about, you can work on preventing it and avoid worsening of the condition. You may even be able to reverse it to some extent.
Instability of a joint is the most common cause of arthritis. Muscles, ligaments and tendons are responsible for the stability of a joint. If those aren’t working as they should, joints have to add bone to regain and maintain stability.
Stability of a joint can be re-established by allowing the nervous system to properly innervate the muscles, tendons and ligaments crossing the joint. Chiropractic care is one therapeutic modality that does a great job at restoring normal nerve conduction. There are many more.
Next time your horse doesn’t move as well as it normally does, ask your veterinarian to do a good diagnostic work-up first before injecting every joint available. Even better would be to do a thorough holistic exam that also takes the rest of the body into account to find what is causing the lameness in the first place.
To illustrate my point, let me share the story of a horse I was called to look at. I’ve known this 10 year old gelding for some time. Apparently, he had started to be sensitive to the rider’s leg aids. The owner thought that the horse might have some pain somewhere and called the regular veterinarian who injected hocks and stifles. Although the horse was moving better, I was still asked to look at the horse. Based on a thorough examination, I suspected that the horse was suffering from some degree of hindgut irritation, possibly even ulcers. He showed all the signs of it (sensitive to touch especially in the rear half of the body, fecal water, painful lumbar area, tight butt muscles, etc.).
Now, wouldn’t you think that muscle tightness could alter his gait? And wouldn’t this change in muscle tone also possibly change the alignment of his joints, causing inflammation in and around the joints as a result? Therefore, wouldn’t it be easier to fix the gastrointestinal tract, rather than injecting several joints? It certainly would be cheaper and less dangerous to the horse’s health.
I’m not against joint injections, but the current practice of injecting joints as if horses had a deficiency in joint injections is poor medicine.