Equine Tendon Injuries - A Holistic Approach
Introduction to Equine Tendon Injuries
Many animals can experience a tendon strain however, as tendon injuries are particularly prevalent in horses, this page is focusing on equine tendon injuries.
If you keep or ride horses, you’re probably aware of at least one horse who’s experienced a tendon injury, because they’re an injury that is common not only amongst competition horses, (particularly racehorses or eventers), but also leisure horses – and can happen at any age.
Although a tendon injury can be extremely serious – causing lameness and pain, with the appropriate treatment and time (prolonged rest from work is usually vital), many animals can recover well.
How will you know if a tendon is injured?
The horse's leg may be hot, swollen, painful and show lameness. However, these symptoms may not all be present (may just be hot or swollen), and if you’re at all concerned that your horse may have a tendon injury – then always contact your Veterinary Surgeon for advice, getting an early diagnosis could help prevent further injury.
Ultrasound and MRI scanners are helpful diagnostic tools that your Vet may use to determine the extent of a tendon injury.
Treating your horse's tendon injuries
As with so many injuries, establishing what the injury is at an earliest stage as possible is important. If the tendon injury isn’t diagnosed, then inappropriate exercise or treatment could take place which would may make the injury worse (or certainly mean it’d take longer to recover).
Your Vet will advise on the best treatment for your particular horse and generally, it’s not unusual for a tendon injury to take around 12-18 months to completely recover.
A carefully planned and controlled exercise regime is important for the long-term rehabilitation of the horse. Whilst rest is important and over-exertion should be avoided, once the injury is stabilised careful exercise can help strength to be regained to the affected area - your vet will be able to advise.
Can any complementary therapies help?
Whilst time is one of the best healers for tendon injuries, there are a variety of complementary therapies that your veterinary surgeon may recommend as being useful to try to help the tendon recover most effectively
Veterinary Acupuncture is often used to help treat lameness and pain, including that caused by a tendon injury. There are many Veterinary Surgeons who have completed specialist training to help animals through the use of acupuncture, and are members of the Association of British Veterinary Acupuncturists.
There are some essential oils (e.g. Lemongrass) which may help tendon injuries as they're thought to help reduce swelling (anti-inflammatory), and also help the connective tissue to repair itself. Given the potentially powerful effects of aromatherapy, it’s always recommended at least initially to have a consultation with a fully qualified practicioner – not all essential oils for example should be used on or near open wounds.
If the horse has a tendon injury, then they experience fatigue and soreness from compensating for the injury. Chiropractic can help the horse with their rehabilitation and wellbeing.
Different herbal supplements and skincare products maybe helpful, including:
- Aloe Vera - A good quality Aloe Vera supplement may help as a natural anti-inflammatory. Additionally, topical Aloe Vera products may also be useful to soothe soreness - (email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on our favourite products that we recommend!)
- Comfrey - Often used to help relieve strains
- Witch Hazel - Can help to relieve soreness
There are several homeopathic remedies which could help – from Arnica to Ruta. However, the best one for your equine will depend specifically on the individual and the extent of his/her injury. A specialist homeopathic vet will be able to advise you. (More info at the British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons.)
Cold hosing is often considered important at an early stage of the injury occuring. Additionally, other types of hydrotherapy can help with the recovery - e.g. swimming or an aqua spa.
"Cold laser therapy" (low level laser therapy) can be used to help promote healing of many ailments, including tendon injuries. When correctly applied it can be very effective and many Vets (and other professionally trained therapists) do now practice laser therapy as part of their treatment.
Magnetic boots can be worn by horses, which are thought to promote healing and may assist with recovery from tendon injuries.
If you horse is being rested due to a tendon injury, massage can play a key role in helping to maintain muscle strength and suppleness. Additionally, massage is thought to generally help with recovery from some injuries.
Physiotherapists use a variety of techniques from manipulation, massage, electrotherapy (ultrasound, laser, etc) to exercise therapy and can help with muscular pain and injuries, amongst many other animal ailments.
Other methods for an integrated approach
- Farriery - Correct trimming and the use of special shoes (or even removal of shoes) if required, can assist in the rehabilitation of a horse with tendon injuries. Your Vet and Farrier by working together will be able to recommend the best approach to your horse's foot care if s/he has a tendon injury. Good footcare is all part of an integrated approach to caring for your horse’s health!
- Hyaluronic Acid – when injected either around the tendon or intravenously it is thought to have an anti-inflammatory effect.
- Shockwave therapy - This must be done at a low dose to avoid causing more serious damage, however, if carefully used, this non-invasive therapy is thought to assist with pain relief and healing.
- Stem cell therapy - over recent years this has become more widely used. It can also be linked with other therapies such as laser therapy and acupuncture, which some Vets believe may promote stem cell activity. The Royal Veterinary College (UK) have also conducted research, which demonstrated an improvement to national hunt racehorses when treated with stem cell therapy. However, it’s not known whether this equally applies to other horses with similar injuries.
Which approach will work best?
The severity of your horse's tendon injury will make a difference as to what therapy will work best. However, it's likely that a combination of approaches will be necessary throughout your horses's recovery.
As with all complementary therapies do seek the advice of your Vet first before using any. A therapist will always need your Vet's permission anyway before treating your animal, and regular liaison between the two professionals can often bring the best results to your animal's health.
Article - Stem Cells Cure Tendon Damage (Royal Veterinary College)