Visualising early onset of an injury in the equine

There is a high prevalence for lameness in competition horses at different anatomical sites.

Horses performing in different disciplines are prone to injuries in specific anatomical regions. This is due to the external and internal forces acting on the equines body and the effects produced by these forces during a specific activity. Fitness levels, loading, surfaces, frequency, rider effect and rider asymmetries and are all elements that require consideration in the training and competition management of the equine athlete.

Always vulnerable.

Skins IR - Equine/Veterinary - Ultra Sound post IR assessment
Fig 1: Skins IR - Equine/Veterinary - Ultrasound post IR assessment

The horse bones muscle, tendons, ligaments all work together to produce movement. Injuries prevent horses from training and competing. There are multiple factors that increase the risk of injury.

Training management of horses doing different sports needs to be modified to decrease the risk of injury.

The higher up the levels a horse performs then so does its value, but also so does its vulnerability to injury.

There are multiple tools in the clinician's box. But, only one will indicate the very early onset of inflammation or damage to nerve and blood supply, all leading to possible chronic issues. A tool that will help in the prevention of clinical lameness, loss of performance and loss of value...That tool is Thermography.

BUT if we cannot see a lameness and we can not feel it, does that mean damage to tissues or blood and nerve supply is not there?

NO, because the manifestation of injury can come way before the onset of pain, and the horse is not yet showing any signs of clinical lameness

Inflammation is the bodies protective response to harmful stimuli, including pathogens, damaged cells, irritants etc and its function is to eliminate the causative factor. However, this response can happen way before you can see or feel it.




Skins - IR- Veterinary/Equine Tendon Damages
Fig 2: Skins IR 30% tear in the SDFT - Veterinary/Equine

So why is Thermography so Important at this stage?

Thermography pics up heat caused during the acute stages of injury, it also picks up a lack of function from damage to nerves and blood supply. It can identify the early stages of injury two to three weeks before the onset of clinical lameness.


Thermogram (Fig 2) captured the palmer view of the superficial digital flexor tendon. This was during a routine scan and before any bowing of the tendon was evident.

Qualitatively there is a clear thermal pattern asymmetry between bilateral limbs and quantitatively there was a 7-degree increase in the damaged structure (left forelimb). Consequently, the vet was called out who then ultrasound the horse and diagnosed a 30% tear in the SDFT. Treatment was swiftly undertaken, which allowed the vet to maximise recovery over time. If thermography had not been used quickly, in this case then it may have resulted in irreparable damage from chronic inflammation and necrosis of the tissue.


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