Wellness Wednesday - Rehabilitating and Treating Tendon Injuries at The Sanctuary Equine Sports Therapy & Rehabilitation Center

Wednesday, December 10, 2014
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The Cold Water Leg Spa at The Sanctuary Equine Sports Therapy & Rehabilitation Center helps horses with tendon injuries during the recovery process (Photo: courtesy of Brenda McDuffee)
The Cold Water Leg Spa at The Sanctuary Equine Sports Therapy & Rehabilitation Center helps horses with tendon injuries during the recovery process (Photo: courtesy of Brenda McDuffee)

Ocala, FL - It’s amazing to watch a horse clear a course of intimidating jumps or push across the finish line at a race track. A true sense of awe takes hold when the spectator considers the small, delicate lower limbs that are carrying this magnificent creature to success with both power and grace. The thin, strong cords of connective tissue that join the horse’s muscles to his bones in the limbs are called tendons, and play a vital role in the horse’s ability to move. Just as the horse’s body depends on these tendons to function, the tendons depend on good care and careful treatment of the entire horse in order to work properly. Equine tendon injuries are serious, and unfortunately are not difficult to obtain. Having a tendon injury generally means that the fiber bundles that make up a tendon have been overly stretched and therefore ruptured. Tendons provide great strength and elasticity to horses’ legs, so an injured tendon renders the horse lame—sometimes indefinitely.

Some causes of tendon injuries are obvious, such as a horse falling while moving over uneven ground or getting a leg caught over an object like a fence board. Other causes are not as easy to spot, but can be detrimental to the horse’s ability to move for the rest of his life if they are not found in time. Riders, owners, and trainers must be vigilant in ensuring that they are not over-exercising or overstraining their equines, and are taking proper care of them. Even an incorrectly applied leg wrap can weaken tendons.

In fact, most tendon injuries are due to slight repetitive stress on the tendons rather than to a high amount of stress received at one time. If a horse is being over-exercised to the point of tearing just a few tendon fibers during every ride, he is slowly developing a tendon injury that will result in a much worse problem than his current “feeling ‘off’” during performance. Besides occurring in horses that are improperly exercised or overexerted, tendon injuries are also more likely to occur in horses that do not have adequately trimmed hooves or have poor pastern conformation. Ignoring a slight lameness problem is the most common cause of a tendon injury.

To discover tendon injuries before they pose a permanent threat to the horse, perform examinations of the horse’s lower limbs after every session of heavy training or intensive competition. Examining the tendons will usually reveal that they are inflamed, hot, and sore to the touch if an injury is developing. Having bowed tendons is another common sign of a tendon injury. At times, horses that are developing tendon injuries will not appear to be lame until after the injury has become severe. Because of this, it is important to have horses that are undergoing intensive exercise examined often by veterinarians who use ultrasounds to analyze the tendons.

Brenda McDuffee, General Manager of The Sanctuary Equine Sports Therapy & Rehabilitation Center, insists that treating tendon injuries involves “taking care of the whole horse so there is better recovery and less chance of re-injury.” To recover from a tendon injury, horses must be given ample time to rest and limited exercise. Even when extreme care is taken to rehabilitate the horse, though, he may never fully recover. Initial prevention is by far the best way to treat this issue.

McDuffee explains “when the horse is really out of condition, and has limped for so long because it became his ‘normal’ way of moving after a few weeks, he never really returns to using a full stride even once he is doing his limited hand-walking and exercising. It is very hard to re-train a horse to use himself evenly either from the ground or under saddle. He will also become fatigued easily while recovering, which causes him to short-stride or— if pushed to continue - can cause him to re-injure the newly healed (still fragile) tissue.”


“This is applicable to many sport horses because so many have injuries - even if they are only mild strains versus tears or bows. Even if the horse is examined and found to be healed, he has been compensating his stride to accommodate the pain throughout rehabilitation. The horse has lost condition and strength from not working, and all of these things factor into bringing him back without causing a re-injury or a new problem,” says McDuffee. 

The first step in helping a horse suffering from a tendon injury to recover is to reduce the inflammation in the limb. Anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving drugs can be administered, along with cold therapy and other modalities to accentuate healing. The horse should rest as much as possible, and an exercise plan should be formed that will not unduly stress the injured tendon. Once a tendon has been injured, it is more likely to become injured again in the horse’s future. The veterinarian may also perform additional procedures to help heal the injury.

The Sanctuary Equine Sports Therapy & Rehabilitation Center in Ocala, Florida, offers advanced treatment and rehabilitation options for horses with tendon injuries to allow them a better chance at full recovery. One treatment that the Sanctuary offers that can make an extreme difference in the recovery process of a tendon injury is the Cold Water Leg Spa. The thirty-five degree salt water in this spa provides pain relief. The legs remain cold for approximately four hours after leaving the spa; a time period during which oxygen flow to the area is increased which speeds up the healing process. The Sanctuary’s Pegasus Laser will reduce pain in the tendon area, reduce swelling, and speed up tissue repair. The Aqua-Pacer Water Treadmill treatment allows horses to exercise without applying a lot of pressure to the tendons. The speed of the treadmill and depth of the water can be adjusted to the specific horse’s needs. The treadmill forces the horse to move both sides of his body equally, which will help eliminate the common tendon injury problem of retaining uneven movement even after healing. This therapy reduces inflammation, as well.

The Sanctuary Equine Sports Therapy & Rehabilitation Center’s rehabilitating and healing treatments can help a horse heal more rapidly and more fully than would be possible without the facility’s therapy. To learn more about The Sanctuary Equine Sports Therapy & Rehabilitation Center, visit www.sanctuaryequinerehab.com.