Osteoarthritis of the carpometacarpal joint (the lower joint space of the knee in a horse's front leg) is a debilitating and life-threatening condition. However, surgically fusing the joint appears to be a viable treatment option in affected horses, say veterinary researchers and surgeons from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatchewan, Canada.

A retrospective review of medical records of 33 horses diagnosed with carpometacarpal osteoarthritis (CMC-OA) revealed this condition occurs primarily in middle age and older Quarter Horses and Arabians. Predominant clinical signs are severe lameness preventing normal use and swelling over the junction of the second carpal and second metacarpal bones.

According to the authors, "Carpometacarpal osteoarthritis in horses is characterized by progressive and debilitating lameness that responds poorly to medical treatment with most affected horses being euthanized within 4 years of diagnosis" and "conventional treatment methods are unsuccessful for treating CMC-OA."

In light of this dismal outcome, the authors evaluated the use of a surgical technique called arthrodesis--the surgical fixation of a joint to ultimately result in bone fusion--for treating CMC-OA.

Twelve horses (15 limbs) underwent arthrodesis of the CMC joint using a "fanning" technique with the drill bit. Key findings of the study were:

  • 10/12 (83%) of horses experienced slight to moderate pain postoperatively (during the first 30 days);
  • 11/12 (92%) of horses were capable of returning to work by 6 months postoperatively;
  • At an average of 28.6 months, postoperatively, 10/12 (83%) of horses were considered sound and 8/12 (67%) had returned to their pre-CMC-OA activities, and
  • 100% of the owners considered the surgery a success.

In light of these findings, the authors stated, "Arthrodesis of the CMC joint should be considered a treatment option for CMC-OA."

Three separate studies on CMC-OA and arthrodesis of the CMC joint were published in tandem by Panizzi et al. in the December edition of the journal Veterinary Surgery. The abstracts are available for free by searching the journal's December 2009 Table of Contents.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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