Elite Equine and Bone Bruises in Sport Horses
FEI-certified veterinarian, Duncan Peters, DVM, MS, heads the Sport Horse Program at Hagyard Equine Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky. Here he explains how a bone bruise occurs, how it’s treated and how it may affect your horse’s career:
Sport horses can bruise bones in the foot and ankle joints, the coffin bone, the ends of the short and long pastern bones and the lower end of the cannon bone. The foot and ankle come under tremendous force, and that force is focused on the small areas where these bones meet.
Although a bone bruise isn’t as serious as a fracture, there is microscopic damage to the bone. And as with any bruise, there’s internal bleeding and swelling; but in this case the fluid builds up within the bone.
Most at risk
Bruising is caused by impact landing off a jump or working on hard ground, so jumpers and eventers are most at risk.
Bone bruises are painful, so your horse will be sore. Your vet can isolate the sore zone with nerve blocks, but it may take sophisticated imaging techniques to identify the cause. X-rays won’t show the microscopic bone damage, but a bruise may show up as a “hot spot” on a nuclear bone scan. MRI is a good diagnostic technology to delineate the bruise.
Your horse will need time off, perhaps three or four months, depending on the degree of bruising. He may benefit from an extended course of anti-inflammatory medication. An NSAID such as Equioxx (firocoxib), which belongs to a class of drugs called cox-2 inhibitors, may be a good choice. These drugs tend to have fewer side effects than other NSAIDs when given for extended periods.
Injured bones heal slowly, but they’re typically good as new once healing is done. Good shoeing (sometimes with pads) and good footing can help prevent reinjury as your horse starts back into regular work. 
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