Joint Infection Risk and Other 2011 Sports Medicine Studies

Joint Infection Risk and Other 2011 Sports Medicine Studies

Key findings of the study were that using needles larger than 18 gauge, reusing needles, and clipping the hair over the joint with either a razor or clippers before injections increased the risk of contaminating the joint with debris or hair.

Photo: Harry Werner, VMD

Thousands of scientific articles are published each year in veterinary journals. Most of us wouldn't dream of sifting through even a fraction of these, thoughtfully assessing the quality of the study, and deciphering what the results mean for "real" horses. Luckily, veterinary surgeons Sue Dyson, PhD, FRCVS, and Michael Ross, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, aren't as easily daunted as the rest of us!

At the 2011 Florida Association of Equine Practitioner's Annual Promoting Excellence in the Southeast Convention, held Sept. 29-Oct. 2 in Amelia Island, Fla., Dyson (head of Clinical Orthopaedics at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket) and Ross (professor of surgery of the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center) presented and critically analyzed a handful of the most clinically relevant literature in the field of equine sports medicine.

One of the most clinically relevant studies presented during the news hour evaluated the effects of needle size, speed of needle insertion, and clipping hair on debris inside the joint following an injection.

"The study was prompted by the surgeon's observing hair and debris during arthroscopic surgeries," explained Ross. "In total, 1,260 needles were analyzed for hair and tissue contamination."

Key findings of the study were that using needles larger than 18 gauge, reusing needles, and clipping the hair over the joint with either a razor or clippers before injections increased the risk of contaminating the joint with debris or hair. Speed of needle insertion did not appear to have any affect.

"The researchers also noted that letting synovial fluid (that lubricates the joint) drip from the needle or aspirating the fluid prior to injecting the medication might be good practice," relayed Ross.

After presenting the authors' data and recommendations, Ross and Dyson pointed out that the overall risk of a horse actually developing a joint infection after an injection is not known.

"In people the risk is very low--only approximately 0.037%," Ross noted. "Because tissue and hair were commonly put into the joint in this study, I question their importance in the subsequent development of infection."

Still, veterinarians agree that joint injections can lead to serious, career-threatening infections and they advise making every effort to minimize the chance of repercussions.

Other frequently covered topics at the news hour, some of which have previously been covered by TheHorse.com, included:

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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