Gait Analysis During Lameness Rehabilitation

At the AAEP Blue-Ribbon Panel Research Meeting in Ft. Collins, Colo., on Aug. 1, 2007, Hilary Clayton, BVMS, PhD, MRCVS, Mary Anne McPhail Dressage Chair in Equine Sports Medicine at Michigan State University, presented her findings on investigation of rehabilitation techniques. She said although lameness is resolved in many sport horses, a horse is not always fully functional and still requires rehabilitation. Movement limitations are often due to tissue contraction and soft tissue injury as well as a need for relearning musculoskeletal patterns and restoration of joint movement.

Clayton's study was designed to measure the effects of tactile stimulation of the pastern region during the swing phase of a stride. Range of motion is greater in the swing phase than in the stance phase, giving the potential for a horse to display increased "action." The study measured the flight arc of the hoof, which represents the end result of all the joint flexions in the limb and work done by the muscles. The tactile device used was a lightweight strap with tiny chains, with a total weight of 55 grams, and this "stimulator" was attached loosely to the pastern. The small chains contacted the pastern, coronary band, hoof, and heel bulbs.

The results indicated that the height of the toe flight arc doubled with stimulators on the front pasterns, and it increased three-fold with stimulators on the hinds, with even more exaggeration than seen with front stimulators. The conclusion was that stimulators on any end of the horse give increased height in all feet, and that the elbow and carpus or stifle and hock are the main contributors to increased height of the hoof arc. The pastern is a particularly sensitive area, with the potential to affect rehabilitation techniques to return a horse to full function, or to improve athletic performance in sound horses.

About the Author

Nancy S. Loving, DVM

Nancy S. Loving, DVM, owns Loving Equine Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and has a special interest in managing the care of sport horses. Her book, All Horse Systems Go, is a comprehensive veterinary care and conditioning resource in full color that covers all facets of horse care. She has also authored the books Go the Distance as a resource for endurance horse owners, Conformation and Performance, and First Aid for Horse and Rider in addition to many veterinary articles for both horse owner and professional audiences.

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