Sole Bruise Lameness

Q: This morning when I went to the barn, my Quarter Horse gelding was lame, to the point where he did not want to bear any weight on his left hind foot at all. My barn manager thinks it might be a sole bruise. What is a sole bruise? What should I do about it until my veterinarian arrives?

A: You have heard the expression "between a rock and a hard place." Visualize what lies between those two unforgiving places and the condition it must be in, and you get some idea of what a sole bruise is. A more technical definition would be a sudden or constant crushing of soft tissue between the horny sole (the bottom of the foot) and the coffin bone. In fact, a sole bruise is just like a bruise on a human. For example, when you smash your finger with a hammer, the bruising that you suffer on your fingertip would be comparable to a sole bruise. You know how painful that type of injury is. A sole bruise can be just as painful to your horse. The more painful the bruise, the more loathe your horse will be to bear weight on the affected limb.

stone bruise

Constant jarring on a hard surface can cause a sole bruise.

There are many causes for sole bruising. Constant jarring on a hard surface can be a major factor. Also, a misstep might cause a sole bruise. If your horse steps on a rock or some other hard surface wrong, it might result in an injury to the bottom of his foot. Other factors include a shoe that the farrier has misplaced on the hoof, or a shoe that has become twisted or turned on the foot for some reason. Another possible cause of sole bruising might be the removal of too much sole when your horse is being shod.

Genetics and environment can play important roles as causative factors. Many horses in the real world have little or no heel, a long toe, and a thin, flat sole. Modern breeding patterns have resulted in horses with a tendency to inherit these kinds of feet. Unfortunately, a flat foot without much heel to support it is the kind of foot predisposed to sole bruising. For the most part, horses in today's society are in effect "apartment dwellers" and have no constant physiological need to develop a foot that is tough enough to withstand the jarring. It's like the country kid who shucks his shoes the last day of school and spends the majority of the summer barefoot. By the end of the summer, his feet are tough enough that he is able to run barefoot over gravel roads. His feet have acclimated to the rigors of their environment.

Our horses, unlike their wild cousins, don't have that opportunity and must sometimes pay the price. Being stall bound and lacking the ability to run over the natural terrain result in no need for the horse to develop a tougher hoof. Thus, when he is asked to do something other than stand around, it is no wonder his foot is susceptible to this type of injury.

Assessing the cause of your horse's lameness often is a difficult procedure. Because of the nature of the hoof, visualizing any physical evidence of a sole bruise is quite difficult. There might be massive bruising that you cannot see due to the pigmentation in the horse's hoof. If your horse becomes lame and hoof testers elicit a painful response, you should consult your veterinarian. He or she will be able to conduct diagnostic tests and eliminate causes through procedures like X rays or nerve blocks. You will want to be sure that there is not something more serious causing the lameness.

The first step in treating the sole bruise is to decrease the inflammation. Your veterinarian might advise any number of treatments to accomplish this goal: tubbing the foot in ice water, applying a poultice, or administering butazoladin might reduce some of the inflammation as well as reduce some of the pain that your horse is experiencing.

In some cases, the size of the hematoma or bruise is so extensive that opening it up and draining it might be necessary. However, it is essential that each situation be judged on a case-by-case basis and each injury treated according to the medical history of the situation.

Recovery time will vary. You will want to make sure not to use your horse during this time as he might aggravate the injury, causing further damage. Using hoof pads to cushion the concussion suffered by a working horse still might not be enough to prevent more bruising, let alone facilitate healing. In fact, continuing to use the horse without correcting the problem can result in chronic problems. This kind of chronic inflammation can affect the character of the underlying bone, and the horse can develop pedal osteitis, an inflammation of the bone. When this type of condition exists, there are serious consequences.

You also might want to protect the area with different types of shoes. Corrective shoeing is one way to treat the sole bruise. You want to be careful and get your farrier to custom fit the shoe to the hoof so that it meets the needs of the problem foot.

A sole bruise is one of the most common causes of lameness. It also is under-appreciated as to the degree of pain it causes the horse. The sooner your veterinarian diagnoses the condition and begins treatment, the better your horse will feel.

About the Author

William Moyer, DVM

William Moyer, DVM, is the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M and is President-elect of AAEP.

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