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Suspensory Ligament Injuries in Horses

Date Published: 06/20/2011

Suspensory ligament injuries can cause severe problems in performance horses and today on Texas Vet News I am going to talk about some new techniques being used to treat this disease. The suspensory ligament stretches from the top of the back of the cannon bone all the way to the bottom of the bone and inserts on the sesamoid bones at the fetlock. The suspensory is a ligament, and ligaments heal slower than other tissues and they heal with scar tissue that is weaker than the normal tissue. Many times rest and rehabilitation do not help these injuries to heal. It is reported that only 20-40% of horses with suspensory ligament injuries of the hind legs will be able to return to work at the preinjury level. 

The vets at Washington State have been doing research to develop a treatment to help these ligaments heal better and quicker. The group of vets is using a technique called a fasciotomy that was developed in England. It includes removing an area of the nerve that innervates a portion of the ligament and also cutting the tissue that surrounds the ligament to reduce pressure. The group in England has achieved a high success rate with this procedure. Also the vets at WSU are injecting stem cells into the ligament. Bone marrow stem cells are believed to stimulate natural ligament regeneration so after repair the tissue will closely resemble normal tissue. Stem cells are removed from the horse's bone marrow, cultured for 2 to 3 weeks, and then injected into the affected area of the ligament. Horses either injure the ligament slowly with the development of small tears or develop an acute tear all at once when performing a maneuver.