Stable Secretary Blog

Joint Injections

Wouldn’t it be helpful if a horse could say “Help! Something hurts here!”? Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Galloping, leaping and sliding to a stop all can put an overwhelming amount of stress on a horse’s legs. Joints are made of up bone, cartilage, soft tissues and protective fluid- all of which can break down as joints absorb shock by bending and giving.

Sliding strains joints.
Running strains joints.
Jumping strains joints. pc: Practical Horseman

There are several reasons why equine veterinarians may need to inject medicine into a horse’s joint. One is to assist in lameness localization by anesthetizing, or blocking, a joint. In this case, the vet will inject a local anesthetic inside the joint cavity and then assess whether or not the joint is a source of pain to the horse. Another common reason is to administer medicine directly into a joint to make it feel better, or as part of proactive management to help a horse be comfortable and maximize his performance.
The former helps to diagnose a lameness. The latter helps to give relief to a painful joint condition.

The two most common conditions that are often treated with joint injections are acute arthritis and osteoarthritis. Acute arthritis implies that the injury and pain happened recently, and can usually be helped by joint injections by reducing inflammation.
Osteoarthritis involves bone and is generally chronic, meaning it has gone on for a longer period of time. Osteoarthritis can’t be cured, but can be helped. This recent study showed that with joint injections, 90% of the horses studied had improved within 3 weeks. Horses can expect to get a few months of relief from a joint injection, but most likely it will not be a long term fix.

Outside of joint injections, there are three types of FDA-approved injectable joint therapies used in horses. Intra-articular (IA), intravenous (IV), and intramuscular (IM). Examples of these might include Adequan and Legend. Your veterinarian may prescribe one, none, or a combination of these types depending on your horse’s use, soundness problems, and which joints are affected. There are also various supplements, oral medications, and therapeutic treatments that can help ease the painfulness of joint problems in horses.

It is important to note that a complete lameness exam, likely to include joint flexions and joint blocking (described above), should be performed prior to administering joint injections. This can help to rule out other causes for the pain which would prevent unintentionally aggravating a non-joint related underlying injury. Also, there are risks of infection and long term side-effects which must also be evaluated prior to injecting joints. In some cases, veterinarians prescribe a course of less invasive therapeutic medicines (like Adequan and Legend) or therapeutic treatments to help horses feel comfortable without undergoing joint injections. If you do pursue joint injections for your horse, it is important to remember that adequate restraint is absolutely essential for a safe joint injection, and therefore only an experienced handler should be allowed to perform a joint injection.

Stable Secretary makes it easy to track a complete history of joint injections, as well as therapies and medications, for every horse in the barn. This enables owners, veterinarians, trainers, and barn managers to form logical conclusions about the best treatments for each individual horse.