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Sports Medicine & Lameness Services


Lameness is the most common cause of poor performance in the athletic horse and is defined as any alteration of the horse’s normal gaits.  Assessment of lameness will involve some combination of palpation, manipulation, flexion tests, hoof testers, nerve blocks and digital imaging.

Visual evaluation can involve trotting in hand, lunging, work under saddle or other work and the use of our new lameness locator technology.  Sports medicine can also include cardiac and respiratory functions, digestive concerns, abnormal muscle function and other issues that affect performance.

Did you know?

The foot is the dominant site of lameness in the performance horse.
It should always be eliminated as a cause of lameness.


Over the years chiropractic techniques have begun to be applied to animals as well as humans, and in recent years horses have benefited greatly from these techniques.  Chiropractic care may be used along with other veterinary treatment to decrease pain and improve a horse’s performance and overall movement.  Proper adjustment can treat a range of problems related to the skeletal and muscular systems and improve flexibility of the back, neck, and affected joints.  When a horse’s vertebral column is aligned and properly functioning, it is better able to carry out effective and efficient movement in the limbs.  Some common indications for chiropractic care include stiffness, gait and stride problems, degenerative arthritis, behavioral changes (bucking), muscle spasms or asymmetry, and discomfort under saddle.

Dr. Heinze has been performing adjustments on horses for twenty years.  He is happy to discuss any question regarding the potential indications and benefits of these techniques.

Lameness Exam

Lameness is the most common cause of poor performance in the athletic horse and is defined as any alteration of the horse’s normal gait.  The veterinarians of Fox Valley Equine Practice offer a thorough clinical examination of the horse’s muscles, joints, bones, and tendons to identify pain, heat, swelling, or any other physical abnormalities associated with deviation from normal athletic performance.  The evaluation may be performed with the horse at rest, in motion, and under saddle.   Additionally, joint flexion tests are a valuable tool in a lameness exam to reveal problems not readily apparent at a baseline gait.  The veterinarian holds the horse’s leg in a flexed position and watches for signs of pain or irregular movement as the horse trots away.

Further diagnostic procedures are often necessary to determine the specific cause of an observed lameness.  These may include digital radiographs, ultrasound, diagnostic nerve or joint blocks, or referral for MRI and nuclear scintigraphy.

Therapeutic Joint Injections

Arthritis is a common ailment of athletic, competitive horses, however joint disease is not limited to sport horses alone. Arthritis refers to inflammation of the joint (area where two bones come together to allow movement), and is a painful, irritating condition that can cause lameness and poor performance. One therapy that proves exceedingly soothing to arthritis pain is intra-articular injection. A veterinarian can insert a needle through the skin and into the joint capsule beneath, and a therapeutic substance is injected into the joint fluid. Corticosteroids are commonly used as these drugs have powerful anti-inflammatory activity, calming the inflammation within the joint. Other substances frequently used include synthetic hyaluronic acid, which is a component of natural joint fluid, IRAP, and stem cells.

Digital Radiography

FVEP offers digital radiography, an advanced x-ray technology where radiographs can be instantly viewed on the farm.  This is an invaluable tool for lameness examinations, pre-purchase examinations, navicular bursa injections, and time-sensitive radiographic results, to name a few. The ability to view images immediately on the farm is crucial in critical cases, such as when a fracture is suspected, and pre-purchase exams, when decisions await diagnostic results.

The practice has recently purchased two new state of the art DR cordless units to further enhance diagnosis.


Lameness Locator

Fox Valley Equine Practice is now utilizing a new diagnostic technology that interprets lameness on a horse using gyroscopic and accelerometer sensors and Bluetooth to assess which limb or limbs is affected.  This is a very useful aid in subtle or complex lameness.


Shockwave Therapy

Shockwave therapy is used primarily to ensure the healing of ligament and tendon injuries.  Extracorporeal shock waves are high pressure, low frequency sound waves, generated by a device outside the body and applied to the affected tissue. This type of therapy was originally used to treat humans with kidney stones by breaking up the stones without the need for invasive surgery. More recently, shock wave therapy has been used to treat a range of orthopedic conditions in both human and animal patients.  When the shock waves meet tissue interfaces of different densities, the energy contained in the shock waves is released and interacts with the tissue.

The shock waves appear to relieve pain and induce healing within the injured tissue, although the mechanism for these effects is unclear. Sedation of the patient is required for application of the therapy, which takes 10 to 15 minutes for each treatment session. Usually 1 to 5 treatment sessions are given with an interval of 10 to 30 days between sessions.

Digital Ultrasonography

Ultrasonography is an evolving technology with many applications in equine health. An ultrasound may be indicated in cases where an injury to ligament or tendon is suspected. If the injury is causing lameness, having an image of the affected area is helpful in directing advanced therapy (e.g. shockwave, PRP injections) as well as tracking improvement as the area heals. An ultrasound will also routinely be performed to track a mare’s estrus (heat) cycle and pregnancy, and may sometimes help elucidate the cause of a severe colic case. Finally, some doctors may use ultrasound to guide injections or biopsies of a specific area. These are a few of the most common uses of ultrasound technology, and the veterinarian may use the ultrasound in other instances where imaging is desired.