Tendon troubles

Injuries to a horse’s tendons are invariably very serious, warns Kim Dyson.

Tendon troubles
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In my line of work, I’m often exposed to sick or injured horses – and the words I dread to hear are: “My horse is lame.” Tendon damage can affect any horse and invariably means an end to its ‘career’. Basically, a tendon looks like a pipe with spaghetti in it. When trauma occurs, the spaghetti strands are damaged, causing all sorts of problems. Traditionally, tendon damage repair involves an initial period of rest – to limit inflammation – followed by a legging- up programme. This aims to harden the scar tissue and ‘line it up’.

Imagine the tube (tendon sheath) filled with spaghetti. Now scramble a few strands so that they no longer lie ‘neatly’ as they should. This is what an injury does. Legging-up helps to get the strands to lie linearly again. Unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more obvious that this is no longer the best form of treatment. Instead, treatments that make use of stem cells derived from bone marrow (BMSC), adipose tissue (AdMSC) and umbilical cord blood (UCB) are now recommended.

Recent research suggests that when grafted to a damaged tendon, BMSC, AdMSC and UBC will improve the tendon’s structural integrity. This form of treatment will not cut down on recovery time, but does significantly improve the quality of recovery. Unfortunately, however, nothing can replace the effectiveness of the original healthy tendon tissue. The regenerated tissue (the ‘patch’) will always be inferior. This form of treatment is available in South Africa, but still requires a degree of fine-tuning, in my opinion. It is also extremely expensive.

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An alternative treatment
Another way to treat a tendon injury is the ‘RICE’ system – rest, ice, compress and eliminate. And remember that the way in which you do this within the first 72 hours will greatly affect the outcome. First, place a support bandage on each of the other legs as they will now be taking more strain. Next, remove the inner cardboard from a roll of toilet paper and stuff it with ice. Flatten the roll and place it on the ergot behind the fetlock. Then pad the leg with cotton wool, wet with cool water and bandage it carefully. Your horse is now stable and you can find buckets, Epsom salts, lavender oil, more ice and water.

Hot and cold
Put cold water, ice and lavender oil in one bucket. Pour warm water, Epsom salts and lavender oil into the other bucket. Now place the leg in each bucket alternately, starting with the warm water and ending with the cold. It is unnecessary to remove the bandages during the treatment. Keep the leg in each bucket for 20 minutes and repeat six times. Now remove the bandage and re-cover with a dry bandage.

Hose down the tendon with cold water for 20 minutes three times a day for five days. Give anti-inflammatories and limit movement for the first week. Keep bandaged for two weeks, and change the bandage every six to eight hours. Depending on the severity of the injury, rest your horse for three to 12 months. When bringing it back into work, do so under a vet’s supervision.

Contact Kim Dyson on 082 888 6511 or at
[email protected]. Please state ‘Horse therapy’ in the subject line of your email.