Written by Gemma S.
Edited for Oralgrooves.com by Evie

Figure 1: Ultrasound of healthy ligament

While horses are incredibly strong and athletic animals, leg injuries are prevalent. Similar to an athlete at the top of his/her sport, it is almost impossible to have a career without suffering some setbacks. In equestrian sport, it is only a matter of time before a horse goes lame and will require treatment and rehabilitation. Due to the incredible wealth of the equestrian community, a lot of money has been put into researching the best and most efficient treatments for equine soft tissue injuries.

Usually, injuries are treated by stall rest, icing, poultice, and compression bandaging. A soft tissue injury always results in a decreased workload, and the approach to healing is to minimize inflammation and increase circulation. Horses are often iced multiple times per day and the leg is wrapped intermittently to decrease inflammation and increase circulation. Once the initial lameness and swelling have subsided, ultrasound pictures are taken to determine the severity of the injury. After that, the vet and trainer can decide what the best route of recovery is for the horse. Some injuries take a month to heal while others can take years.

Figure 2: Ultrasound of ligament with injury. Area A = tear in ligament. Note the darker color.

The most common procedures performed on equine soft tissue injuries are the injection of Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and stem cells. PRP injections into the surrounding tissue infuse the injury with platelets, cells found in the blood that are vital to the healing process. They have been found to stimulate the growth of blood vessels, bringing nutrients and oxygen to the injured tissue. Unfortunately, some injuries and the subsequent secondary injuries are too severe and the soft tissue never fully heals (see Figure 3 below), even with PRP treatment.

Figures 3: Ligament after PRP treatment
Figure 4: Ultrasound of ligament after stem cell therapy

Stem cells are cells that can become any type of specialized cell. By using them in a soft tissue injury, connective tissue can form and accelerate healing. You can see in Figure 4 how there are no dark or gray spots in the ligament, meaning that all the holes have been filled with tissue. Though the horse in this picture will most likely be retired as a pasture buddy, he will not be prone to re-injury in the future.

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