Q: My horse has recently been diagnosed with a fractured pedal bone and my vet has prescribed a period of box rest until the fracture has healed significantly. Can you suggest any alternative therapies which might aid the healing and help my horse cope with the enforced rest?

Tim Couzens MRCVS replies: Bone, along with ligaments, tendons and cartilage, is a type of connective tissue.

It is the major rigid component of the skeleton and basically consists of cells and a type of matrix, which is composed of collagen and inorganic salts.

It is these salts which are responsible for most of the weight of bone, while the collagenous fibres give bone its strength and resilience.

Successful healing of fractures is dependent on several factors:

  • A diet which will supply the necessary nutrients for bone healing.
  • A good supply of blood to the site of the fracture. This will deliver building blocks for new bone to form to aid healing.
  • Absence of infection and stabilisation which are vital to allow the ends of the fracture to unite properly.

Remedies to aid bone healing

The best known natural remedy for treating fractures is the herb comfrey, whose common countryside name is “knitbone”.

This plant is a familiar sight in many fields and has been used traditionally to hasten the healing of fractures.

This action is thought to be due to one of its constituents, allantoin, which speeds up healing.

In summer, the fresh plant is easy to find and most horses find it palatable.

Simply feed your horse a handful of the leaves each day. Be careful not to mistake the plant with foxglove which looks similar.

If in doubt, or when the plant is out of season, use dried leaves or liquid tincture. These are both available from proprietary sources.

  • Comfrey is also used homoeopathically, with the same effect, although the remedy is known under its Latin name ‘symphytum officinalis’. Ideally, use symphytum 6c twice daily until the fracture is fully healed.
  • Ruta grav is useful where fracture healing is slow or where there has been extensive damage to the periosteum at the time of the fracture. Ruta is also good for non-union fractures (where the ends of the bone fail to unite). As above, use the 6c potency twice daily.
  • Calc phos and calc carb also help with the healing of fractures, with the former best suited to leaner horses and the latter to heavier builds. Both are constituents of bone and I’d recommend you use the 30c potency once a day.

    Beating infection

    Where there is a problem with infection in the bone (osteomyelitis), one of the best remedies is silica 30c. This is given three times daily in this situation, though it should not to be used if there has been orthopaedic fixation of the fracture as it may cause metal implants to work loose.

    Sometimes, a healed fracture will result in unwanted excess bone – often bony spurs which are normally reabsorbed naturally. Calcium fluoride and heckla lava are two remedies which will encourage these to disappear. These are best given in the 6c potency once daily for about eight weeks.

    Box rest stress

    While the fracture is healing, your horse will have to be confined to box rest to help with stabilisation. If this causes some degree of stress, then think about using some herbal remedies which have a calming,quietening effect such as valerian, skullcap, chamomile and vervain.

    These can be safely given alongside any homoeopathic treatment and are readily available either in dried form or as liquid combinations.