20 Dec 2019

Elite Equine and Stages of Healing in Soft Tissue Injury


Barb Crabbe, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, shares some valuable insight on this often frequently recurring type of injury:

“It only takes one bad step. When a critical soft tissue structure is injured, your horse could be fine today, then lame for months or even years to come. In fact, a serious soft tissue injury can be even more devastating than a fracture, especially for a performance horse. Tendons and ligaments not only heal slowly, they’re also often weakened after healing—meaning they can be reinjured easily.

Key Structures

Tendons facilitate the attachment of muscle to bone and provide the pulley through which muscles have their effect. Basic tendon structure consists of a series of parallel fibers that come together in multiple bundles, similar to the small wires within an electrical cord. The small tendon fibers within each bundle are crimped into small waves that allow them a small amount of flexibility to aid in shock absorption.

Ligaments are connective tissue structures that attach bone to bone across joints to help provide stability and control movement. In general, they’re less elastic (stretchy) than tendons.

When Things Go Wrong

A soft tissue injury most commonly occurs when the tendon or ligament is stretched beyond its capacity, causing the fibers to tear. These injuries can be the result of a sudden trauma (like falling in a hole or twisting during a sudden move). Or, they can be due to repetitive movement that causes gradual weakening and an eventual tear. Injuries most commonly occur either within the body of the tendon or ligament or at the point where it attaches to bone.

Stages of Healing

Stage 1 – Following injury, soft tissue structures go through three stages of healing, beginning with the inflammatory stage that lasts approximately seven days. During this stage, increased blood flow carries much-needed molecules to the area to help remove dead tissues and clean up debris. But it also leads to the heat and swelling you may see when an injury first happens.

This clean-up is necessary before true healing can begin, yet the inflammation that accompanies it also can cause further damage if it goes unchecked. This is the stage where treatments aimed at controlling inflammation, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, icing, and cold hosing, may be beneficial.

Stage 2 – The second stage of healing is the period when healing cells begin to regenerate tissues. A scaffolding form across torn fibers that then supports the collagen fibers that will be laid down to fill the injury.

Initially, these fibers are haphazardly arranged and weak. During this period, which can last for several months in a severe injury, controlled movement (usually hand walking) begins to be important to stimulate tissue regeneration. This is the stage when newer therapies aimed at stimulating tissue regeneration—such as stem-cell therapy or platelet-rich plasma—are most likely to be effective.

Stage 3 – The final stage of healing is remodelling, when the tendon and ligament fibers begin to rearrange themselves into a normal pattern. Progressive, controlled exercise is crucial at this point to encourage fibers to heal along normal lines of stress. If proper remodelling doesn’t happen, fibers can remain randomly lined up. The structure will be weaker and possess less elasticity after healing is complete, making it more at risk for future injury.” [1]

Elite Equine 100% Organic Rosehip Supplement is a powerful anti-inflammatory that will aid healing in the first stage, but also provide the immune support your horse may need in the long run.

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Photo by Sheri Hooley on Unsplash