Heel Pain in Horses

If you spot lameness in your horse and you rested them but the lameness has returned you may want to have them examined for conditions such as heel pain. Today, our Columbia equine vets discuss horse heel pain, the effects it can have on your horse if left untreated and how to prevent it from occurring.

What is Heel Pain in Horses?

Heel pain (also known as Podotrochleosis or Navicular Syndrome) is characterized by degeneration of the navicular bone and its surrounding architecture in the back part of the hoof, resulting in chronic lameness affecting both forefeet. One-third of all chronic forelimb lameness in horses is thought to be caused by heel pain.

What are the symptoms of heel pain in horses?

The lameness caused by heel pain may be mild at first but if left untreated it will continue to worsen. Both front feet are normally affected, but one appears to be worse than the other. The lameness is most obvious during the trot, resulting in a head-bob, as it is with most lameness. Affected horses' trots and canters are frequently short and choppy, and their necks and polls are inflexible.

All you may observe in subtle circumstances is that the horse does not perform to your expectations or appears reluctant to work. On hard ground, lameness or stiffness is often severe, and it may only be visible in a limited circle in one direction or the other. To reduce pain in the heel, some affected horses will "point" (hold out in front) the more painful foot.

Unlike lameness caused by other issues, heel pain-related lameness will not be relieved by rest and should be managed with the help of a farrier and equine veterinary care.

What are the treatment options for heel pain in horses?

Treatment and management options are available once a horse has been diagnosed, but there is no single treatment that will "cure" the problem. The majority of horses with heel pain are treated with a combination of personalized medicinal treatments, farriery, and work and activity recommendations over time.

Speak with your equine vet in Columbia to learn more about the treatment options for heel pain in horses and to schedule an examination.

Have the Farriar Take a Look at Your Horse

If your horse is experiencing heel pain and the resulting lameness, the first thing you should do is have them properly shoed. Shoeing then enables further mechanical manipulation, which can help mechanics even more. Radiographs are quite useful in guiding the shoeing process. The importance of proper trimming and shoeing in the treatment of this problem cannot be overstated.

The movement of the center of articulation, the alignment of the pastern axis, and the length of the breakover are all crucial aspects of hoof mechanics to consider.

A bar shoe is frequently used to "guard" the heel by reducing the amount of time it sinks into the ground. There are a variety of shoe designs, but the fundamental goal is to wedge the horse to the normal axis and keep him on soft ground. This prevents overextension of the coffin joint, which could cause the navicular to become overloaded.

Other Possible Horse Heel Pain Treatment Options

Oral or injectable systemic medicines are frequently used as part of the therapy approach. Bisphosphonates are the most often utilized drug class (Osphos and Tildren). These medications function by preventing bone resorption, which makes sense considering that one of the apparent symptoms of heel pain is the dissolution of the Navicular Bone. Phenylbutazone (bute), firocoxib, and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) reduce pain and inflammation while also reducing lameness, but they are not always the best choice for long-term maintenance due to the possibility of adverse side effects.

Surgical techniques that alter the mechanics of the navicular (such as severing the navicular suspensory ligaments) can be beneficial in some circumstances, but they are case-specific and can be unreliable.

Neurectomy (nerving) can be beneficial for horses with advanced diseases who are unable to be made comfortable in any other manner. This entails cutting a section of each of the heel (palmar digital) nerves in the back of the pastern. It gives long-term pain relief by numbing the area, but it does not address the underlying cause of the pain. The cycle of deterioration in the hoof normally continues and may be accelerated due to increased limb loading.

What are the predisposing factors for heel pain?

Yes, while there is nothing set in stone when it comes to heel pain in horses, there are some trends that we can see allowing the prediction of this condition.

For example, heel pain is common in American Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds, and Warmblood breeds. It is rare in ponies and Arabians.

Further, It is most common in horses with large, heavy bodies and short feet, but this is not always the case.

How can heel pain in horses be prevented?

While your horse vet in Columbia can be a helpful part of caring for your horse, you are the primary caregiver. Therefore you play a vital role in managing heel pain if it affects your horse. Including:

  • Be on the lookout for this condition, especially in the predisposed breeds, and if you are considering buying a horse.
  • Knowing the basic mechanics and anatomy of the horse’s foot.
  • Get your horse veterinarian involved early if you suspect lameness.
  • Administering the treatment and management as prescribed.
  • Monitoring the horse’s response and communicating your observations to your vet.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you suspect something wrong with your horse's stride and suspect they may be experiencing heel pain? Contact Maury County Veterinary Hospital. Our Columbia vets are here to help.