There are many types of diseases and injuries in the performance horse, that are common across all disciplines. Some injuries, however, are dependent on the activity and discipline in which they compete and the level. One of the most common injuries in performance horses is tendon and ligament injuries.
One of the ways that the palmer soft tissue structures can be injured is overstraining. When a horse puts in too much physical effort beyond their natural physical capacities, overloads or overuses, or when a phase of degeneration occurs then the palmer soft tissue structures of the metacarpal region can become vulnerable.
Identification of ‘asymptomatic’ (without clinical symptoms) lesions can be observed with thermography two to three weeks prior to being clinically diagnosed with Ultrasonography.
Diagnosis of a tendon, ligament and other soft tissue injuries is usually based on history, frequently preceding a bout of heightened or concentrated exercise followed by the development of the signs of inflammation; heat, pain, swelling, bruising and immobility over the affected structure. Because lameness is not always present it is not easy to identify immediately the presence of or the degree of damage. However, evidence from research shows that thermography picks up very early degrees of inflammation associated with early damage of a structure.
It is reported that many clinical strain-induced tendinopathies are bilateral with one limb affected more severely than the other. So when using infrared thermography it is important to compare and measure the thermal patterns of the contralateral limb and an understanding of what is normal compared to what is not normal is required, therefore training to use thermography should always be undertaken before using this modality.
Early detection nearly always means prevention of a degree of damage. An example is this; If there is a clinical injury with disruption to the tendon matrix initially we would find an intratendinous haemorrhage, followed by a distinct inflammatory reaction. The inflammatory reaction results in an increase in blood flow, and the development of edema the permeation of cells such as neutrophils (granular white blood cells), macrophages and monocytes that all have the ability to engulf and destroy pathogens and the release of proteolytic enzymes. This is the earliest stage of if repair, however, if the inflammatory response is not identified at this stage and swift intervention has not taken place then the response can be excessive causing further damage to the tissue and in some cases irreparable.
It is important if inflammation is present in the acute inflammatory phase that cold is applied to the structure, rest and compression is employed in early management and that the structure is monitored with thermography for identification of increases or decreases in the inflammatory response, which is a great indicator of the speed of repair.