Olecranon Fracture Repair Has Good Prognosis

Olecranon (point of the elbow) fractures are common orthopedic problems in foals often attributable to being kicked while playing, rambunctious behavior, or falling over backward (which they are more apt to do than older horses).

In a joint study from the University of Missouri (UM) Comparative Orthopaedic Laboratory and Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Ky., researchers followed the careers of 24 racehorses that underwent olecranon fracture fixation surgery (such as screws and plate fixation) as foals. In general, the prognosis for olecranon fractures to heal after surgical repair is good, but there had yet to be a study focusing on racing prognosis, which would allow quantification of this theory.

Researcher John Janicek, DVM, an equine surgical resident at UM, said of the 24 horses in the study, 22 healed completely. Of those, 16 (73%) went on to race at least once.

"Of the six horses that failed to race and for which long-term followup was available, three developed musculoskeletal injuries not associated with the fracture repair; one developed significant ulnar dysplasia (elbow joint incongruity); one acquired metacarpophalangeal joint contracture (knuckling over of the fetlock joint) and delayed bone union; and one was euthanized because of gastrointestinal disease during training," Janicek explained.

"Overall, more than two-thirds of the (24) foals that were operated on started in at least one race, suggesting that horses undergoing olecranon fracture stabilization as juveniles have an equivalent prognosis for maintaining athletic soundness and the ability to race in comparison with their siblings," Janicek said. "An olecranon fracture itself is not going to prevent these juvenile racehorses from developing into a sound horse, but the ensuing degenerative osteoarthritis associated with articular fractures, ulnar dysplasia development, or some other musculoskeletal injury may be a substantial factor."

Race record results for these horses were compared with starts of siblings from the same dams (61%) and the national average for racehorses that didn�t have this problem that started at least one race (Thoroughbred 69% and Standardbreds 66%). Janicek stated "the likelihood of horses with olecranon fractures to race was not significantly different when compared to their siblings; however, on average, the siblings did have more lifetime starts and higher career earnings."

Although the study evaluated potential racehorses, he said this information can be applied to all equestrian disciplines.

Complete results of this research, published in the March 2006 issue of the Canadian Veterinary Journal, included Janicek, Dwayne Rodgerson, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS; Robert Hunt, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS; Michael Spirito, DVM; Paul Thorpe, DVM; and Ron Tessman, DVM.

About the Author

Chad Mendell

Chad Mendell is the former Managing Editor for TheHorse.com .

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