Equine Superficial Digital Flexor Tendon Injuries Reviewed

Studies at both the molecular and cellular level are needed to better determine how tendon injuries occur, said a group of researchers in the United Kingdom. Only then can appropriate treatment and preventive measures be developed.

"Some tendons are more prone to injury than others; the majority of tendon injuries (97-99%) occur to the forelimb tendons, with the superficial digital flexor tendon being injured in 75-93% of cases and the remaining injuries occurring to the suspensory ligament," the researchers noted.

Hind limb tendons and ligaments

Tendons run down the front and back of a horse's lower limb.

Based on a review of the literature, the research team reported that the risk of tendon injuries increases with increasing age and are more common in National Hunt racehorses than horses that compete only on the flat. National Hunt horses jump and are typically older than horses that race on the flat.

Elite show jumpers also have a high risk of injury to the forelimb superficial digital flexor tendon and deep digital flexor tendon; however, dressage horses more frequently suffer hind limb suspensory ligament injuries.

While tendons can be injured as a result of a single overloading event, tendon injury is more often preceded by degenerative changes in the extracellular matrix of the tendon (the microscopic components of the tendon that lie between the individual cells of the tendon). To date, the cause of this degeneration remains unclear.

"Understanding the variation in tendon matrix at the molecular and cellular level and the relationship to the unique requirements of individual tendons is the key to developing more effective treatment regimens and to reducing the incidence of injury through managing training practices," the researchers concluded.

The review article, "A review of tendon injury: Why is the equine superficial digital flexor tendon most at risk?" is scheduled to be published in an upcoming edition of the Equine Veterinary Journal. The full article is available for free online.

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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