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Lameness Evaluation & Examination in Horses

Many horses experience issues that affect their stance and gait, which we often refer to as lameness. Here, our Ocala equine vets discuss the methods used to diagnose lameness in horses and what you should know about the lameness evaluation process.


Lameness Tests & Exams Used in Diagnosing Horses

There are a number of methods used as lameness tests in horses. We discuss each one in a little more detail below:

Physical Exam

During a physical examination, your equine vet will look and feel for abnormalities in your horse’s body. This will include conformation and muscle symmetry. If your horse shows signs of an abnormal stance, it could indicate lameness. Their hooves and shoes will also be evaluated to determine soundness. The limbs and joints will be examined for signs of heat or inflammation and range of motion. The exam will often include an evaluation of the back muscles for tension or sensitivity, especially with a hind end lameness.

Hoof Testers

Your vet may use a hoof tester, a large metal instrument that squeezes your horse's hoof to check for sensitivity when applying pressure. The location of the sensitivity will determine the issue at hand.

Flexion Tests

For a flexion test, your equine vet will hold up your horse’s leg for 30 or 45 seconds and then ask them to trot immediately. The purpose of a flexion test is to pinpoint pain coming from a specific joint. Your vet will perform this test on each joint to look for a pain response. This helps your vet to determine the part of the leg that needs treatment.

Nerve or Joint Blocks

A nerve block is simply using a localized anesthetic to block pain in a specific area on your horse’s leg. This is to see if that region is the source of the pain. When the area of pain is successfully numbed with a nerve or joint block, the signs of lameness will no longer be visible, and the horse will move with ease.

Diagnostic Imaging

Once the target area has been determined, your vet may perform diagnostic imaging to better understand what is happening. X-rays (radiographs) or ultrasounds are most commonly used for this. X-rays will give your equine vet an in-depth look at the bone, and ultrasounds will show soft tissues such as tendons.

How do specialists help evaluate and examine lameness in horses?

A lameness clinician or veterinary specialist examines horses with difficult-to-diagnose issues and uses more advanced diagnostics such as nuclear scintigraphy or MRIs. They are often experienced in the use of ultrasound for lameness diagnosis. Many equine specialists who focus on lameness are experienced in treatments such as complicated joint injections and regenerative therapies such as platelet-rich plasma or stem-cell treatments.

If your horse is experiencing any issues that have been difficult to diagnose or require advanced care, your equine vet may refer you to a specialist. They may also refer you for specific diagnostic tests, such as nuclear scintigraphy or MRI, which may not be available in a standard veterinary practice. Many specialists offer lameness and pre-purchase examinations, which are common in high-level performance horses.

Horse Lameness Evaluations in Ocala

You should always contact your vet if you notice any issues with your horse's gait or if they refuse to bear weight on any limb. They will perform a complete physical examination and, if needed, a lameness evaluation to diagnose the issue and recommend a treatment plan. At Florida Equine Veterinary Associates, we offer many different equine therapeutic techniques to help improve the health and well-being of your horse. Ask us about how these can benefit your horse after a lameness diagnosis.

What is the AAEP (American Association of Equine Practitioners) lameness scale?

In the United States, veterinarians commonly use the scale developed by the AAEP. The goal of this scale is to aid in both communication and record-keeping.

The scale ranges from zero to five, with zero being no signs of lameness and five being the most extreme.

  • 0: Lameness is not perceptible under any circumstances.
  • 1: Lameness is difficult to observe and is not consistently apparent, regardless of circumstances (e.g., under saddle, circling, inclines, hard surface, etc.).
  • 2: Lameness is difficult to observe at a walk or when trotting in a straight line but consistently apparent under certain circumstances (e.g., weight-carrying, circling, inclines, hard surface, etc.).
  • 3: Lameness is consistently observable at a trot under all circumstances.
  • 4: Lameness is obvious at a walk.
  • 5: Lameness produces minimal weight-bearing in motion and/or at rest or a complete inability to move.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding equine animals, or professional advice regarding equine regulations. For the diagnosis of your animal's condition and help to navigate regulations governing the care and transportation of equine animals please contact your vet.

Is your horse showing signs of pain when standing or moving around? Contact our veterinary team at Florida Equine Veterinary Associates today to schedule a lameness examination.

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