Injuries to the suspensory ligament are a common occurrence and cause of lameness in athletic horses. Ligaments attach bones to each other and act as supports. The primary function of the suspensory ligament is to prevent excessive extension of the fetlock joint during the weight-bearing or the ‘stance phase’ of each stride.
The Suspensory Ligament in the horse is a strong, broad, fibrous anatomical structure that attaches to the back of the cannon bone just below the knee. The ligament begins at its attachment to the backside of the upper cannon bone in both the fore and hind limbs. It runs downwards close to the back of the cannon bone before dividing into two branches (the medial and lateral branches) each of which attaches to one of the sesamoid bones at the back of the fetlock.
Ligaments are composed of fiber-like connective tissue which elements are carefully aligned in longitudinal bundles that run in the direction of force or pull on the entire structure. These bundles of fibers are grouped together, beginning in small units, then combined with others to form larger parallel fiber bundle groups.
The ligament becomes strained/injured when the load placed on it exceeds the combined strength of the entire fiber bundle groups. The injury is like stretching a piece of elastic too far so that it does not return to its original size and cannot sustain the load it could before being overstretched.
Signs of injuries are often characterized by heat, swelling and pain on palpation of the affected area. Suspensory ligament injuries may be singular traumatic events associated with an accident or hyperextension. They may also be repetitive strain injuries, or associated with chronic degeneration of the ligament over time. Although injuries to the suspensory ligaments are relatively common, often they are not diagnosed or are misdiagnosed for a period. There are several reasons for this, but the primary one is there are no outer symptoms such as visible swelling in the limb.
A proper lameness examination should be performed by Veterinarian by watching the horse walk and trot on a straight line and walk, trot, and canter circles in both directions. It is usually essential to perform diagnostic nerve blocks to determine the source of pain. The standard diagnosis of injury to ligaments in horses is by ultrasound examination.
Rest is the number one treatment of suspensory ligament injuries regardless of location.
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