Recognising hindlimb lameness

  • Hindlimb lameness is more common than people realise, particularly when the onset is gradual, subtle and affects both hindlegs the same.

    Often a coexisting frontleg lameness detracts from an underlying problem behind, vets find that once they have resolved a problem in front, a hindlimb asymmetry then becomes apparent.

    If you suspect your horse is “not right behind” then observe him in his stable or paddock.

    Does he:

  • Look tucked up and roach-backed with his hindlegs held unusually straight – this is often a sign of pain and tenseness?
  • Continuously rest one foot only or constantly shift his weight from one hindfoot to the other – laminitis can occur behind too.
  • Occasionally snatch up one hindlimb, then gingerly lower the toe back to the ground?
  • Have difficulty getting up after lying down?
  • Resent you picking up one or more limbs?
  • Have uneven wear to his hindfeet and/or shoes, particularly in the toe region?

    If your horse exhibits any of the above then carry out the following:

  • Stand him square on a level surface and observe him from behind, noting any obvious areas of asymmetry or swelling, particularly in the hindquarters.
  • Run your hands over both hindlimbs, noting any lumps, bumps or swellings, particularly if the horse resents it if you touch them.
  • Have him walked and trotted up on a hard, level surface and listen to the rhythm of the footfall pattern. A stiff limb flight, often accompanied by dragging of the toe, a failure to track up, and poor hindlimb impulsion, are all suspicious.
  • In more severe cases the horse will take his weight forward, and therefore nod, when the lame hindleg and diagonal hit the ground, the head going back up as the other diagonal of sound hindlimb/forelimb bear the weight. This cangive the impression of a forelimb lameness.
  • Lungeing may accentuate a subtle lameness. In addition, your horse may appear reluctant to trot freely, preferring to canter instead.

    If you have any concerns call your vet.

    Preparing for the vet’s examination

    An accurate history will help your vet enormously, and should include:

  • The duration of the problem and whether it was sudden or gradual.
  • The presence of any traumatic incident.
  • Whether things improve or deteriorate with exercise.
  • Your findings and observations.

    Clinical examination

    The vet will carry out, but in greater detail, the checks you have already done yourself. He will also perform flexion tests and may want to see the horse ridden under saddle.

    Further tests

    Some veterinary centres now use force plates and high speed treadmills to detect and evaluate subtle gait abnormalities.

    Blood tests can help to differentiate true hindlimb lameness from horses whose gait abnormality is due to tying up or an infection.

    Nerve blocking anaesthetises selective areas and temporarily desensitises them. If an improvement is seen it strongly suggests the pain isin that particular area.

    Intra-articular anaesthesia injects a local anaesthetic directly into a particular joint with the aim of showing a more specific area of pain.

    Radiography shows up bony problems, but is really only practical for conditions affecting the stifle downwards because of the sheer bulk of the horse’s hindquarter anatomy.

    Ultrasonograph: is useful for detecting soft tissue problems such as ligaments and tendons. Also conditions affectingbony surfaces, such as fractures, particuarly where radiography is impractical, as in the pelvis.

    Nuclear scintigraphy or bone scanning accurately illustrates “hot spots” or bone abnormalities – in the limb.

    Arthroscopy the vet to passes a telescope into the joint under anaesthesia which allows him to visualise the internal structure of that joint, including lesions.

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