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Inexplicable Lameness, Explained

Inexplicable foreleg lower limb lameness explained: THE ELBOW

If your horse is out of balance or not carrying weight over all four legs, he is not using his hind end enough and subsequently is sending most of his weight to the forehand. Too much weight on the fore will, inevitably, put too much pressure on the elbow, ultimately causing problems in the lower foreleg.

The bicep flexes the equine’s elbow, but it also PREVENTS the over extension of the elbow. So, if you have an out-of-balance horse with his weight predominantly on the forehand, the biceps will always be engaged (to prevent the over-flexion of the elbow). This over-engagement is due to an eccentric contraction. An eccentric (lengthening) muscle contraction occurs when a force applied to the muscle exceeds the momentary force produced by the muscle. As a result, you might find an over-sensitivity or possibly a spasm in either the biceps and/or brachiocephalic muscles. Because the equine body is so intelligent, at a certain point, the body protects itself by excessively contracting the biceps eccentrically. The result: an over-stretching of the muscle. And, when muscle pulls on bone, pathologies will develop due the muscle tension. This over-stretching (for example in an extended trot or the landing over a jump) will result in instability in the joint. Instability causes friction. Friction causes irritation. Irritation leads to pain.

So how does the elbow lead to lower front leg lameness?

The deep digital flexor tendon is the only tendon that goes deep under the hoof. So, over time, over-extending of the elbow may result in over-stretching of the deep digital flexor tendon. This can present as an irritated coffin joint and the horse can become lame. You may discover the lameness on the inside front while going in a circle. When your vet is called now, the vet will likely block out the coffin joint; and yes, the horse will likely move better.

Why would blocking the coffin bone appear help? The coffin bone is painful; if it is blocked, the pain sensation goes away, the horse moves better and everyone thinks the issue is resolved. But the issue is not really resolved because we didn’t treat the real issue, we only treated the symptoms.

An ounce of prevention…

The net net: we need to regularly palpate the elbow by putting varied levels of pressure on the joint to test for a reaction. We can also use a flexion and extension test of the elbow. Know your horses’ limits. Please avoid extended trot or over jumping in an unbalanced horse. And remember PAIN = NO GAIN; you can “gain” without pain. I promise.

To learn more about Equine Bodywork, Horse Bodywork, Canine CranioSacral, Equine CranioSacral, CranioSacral for horses, Horse Speak®, Equine Pilates and/or Reformer Pilates for Humans here in Aiken, head to Pilates Mastery. If you’re looking for Pilates near me, Pilates Mastery also offers virtual Pilates sessions if you are not local to Aiken, SC. You may book an Equine Pilates or a Horse Speak® session at:

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