Last Updated on July 26, 2022
A check ligament injury in horses can be a complex and difficult condition to deal with. If your veterinarian suspects that your horse has a check ligament injury, you’ll want to know everything about this musculoskeletal problem. Let’s find out everything you need to know about check ligament injuries in horses!
What Is The Check Ligament In Horses?
Within the lower parts of the legs of the horse there are a range of different ligaments. Ligaments have a very important function to play, as they attach one bone to another. This purpose of this is normally to stabilise joint between the two bones, preventing them from being overextended.
The ligaments also support the system of tendons within the leg. Tendons attach muscle to bone, and are part of the system that flexes and extends the limb. Ligaments provide support by preventing tendons from being overextended.
The check ligament in horses is found in all four legs, at the back of the cannon bone. It starts at the back of the knee or hock, and attaches lower down with the deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT) further down the cannon.
The correct name for the check ligament in horses is the inferior check ligament, or ICL. You may also hear it referred to as the accessory ligament of the deep digital flexor tendon, or ALDDFT. The tendons and ligaments that work in conjunction with the check ligament are the deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT), the superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT), and the suspensory ligament.
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What Is A Check Ligament Injury In Horses?
A check ligament injury in horses occurs due to a strain or degenerative wear and tear of the ligament. Ligament tissue is incredibly strong, but if put under sudden strain or long-term pressure it can sustain tears or weakened areas. This leads to a hole or area of reduced strength in the ligament, which can be painful for the horse.
The strength in a ligament comes from a high proportion of collagen, and over time this can become less effective. This means that check ligament injuries in horses are more common in older animals, particularly those over 10 years of age.
Check ligament injuries such as strains are more common in the forelegs, often as a result of athletic work such as jumping or galloping on hard ground. However, horses can also sustain a check ligament injury whilst at rest in the field.
How Is A Check Ligament Injury In Horses Diagnosed?
Acute check ligament injuries in horses are normally sudden onset, with the horse appearing lame in the affected limb. The tendons and ligaments around the upper cannon area will feel hot and swollen, and will be painful when palpated.
When a horse sustains repeated check ligament strains, this is termed a chronic check ligament injury. In some cases the horse will remain lame despite rest, due to irreparable damage within the ligament. They may also alter their stance or gait in response to the injury.
Whether the check ligament injury is acute or chronic, the diagnostic tests are the same. An ultrasound scan will be carried out to determine the level of damage within the tissue. Healthy check ligament tissue will show up as solid grey-white, while areas of damage or swelling will be darker.
What Is The Best Treatment For A Check Ligament Injury In Horses?
Initial treatment of check ligament injuries requires strict rest and anti-inflammatory medication to reduce pain and swelling. Cold hosing of the limb and ice packs can also help to reduce swelling.
Repeated ultrasound scans may be carried out to assess the rate of healing. After one week, a controlled exercise program may be started to help build up strength in the ligament. Some veterinarians will recommend medicating the affected area to facilitate the rebuilding of strong, healthy tissue.
A full return to soundness is possible but will depend on following a strict rehabilitation program.
Summary – Check Ligament Injury In Horses
So, as we have learned, a check ligament injury in horses occurs due to a strain or degenerative wear and tear of the ligament that runs from the back of the knee to the middle of the cannon bone. Check ligament injuries such as strains are more common in the forelegs, often as a result of athletic work such as jumping or galloping on hard ground. Diagnosis of this condition requires n ultrasound scan to determine the level of damage within the ligament tissue
We’d love to hear your thoughts on a check ligament injury in horses! Have you ever had a horse that has suffered from a check ligament injury? Or maybe your veterinarian suspects that your horse has a check ligament injury and you’ve got some questions about the best treatment? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
Where Are The Check Ligaments In Horses?
The check ligaments in horses are located behind the cannon bone, extending from the knee to the mid section of the cannon bone. Its purpose is to support the tendons that flex and extend the lower leg.
What Causes Check Ligament Injury In Horses?
Check ligament injuries in horses can either be acute onset or chronic. Acute check ligament injuries occur when the ligament is put under excessive strain, such as jumping on hard ground. Chronic changes occur as a result of degeneration of the check ligament tissue in older horses.
Can A Horse Recover From A Ligament Injury?
Horses can recover from ligament injuries, but the chances of a full recover and return to work depend on the type and severity of the injury. A full rehabilitation is often necessary to facilitate the rebuilding of strong ligament tissue. This may include a controlled exercise program, hydrotherapy, and medication to reduce inflammation.
How Long Does It Take For A Ligament To Heal In A Horse?
Ligament tissue is very slow to heal and rebuild. A full recovery from a ligament tissue injury may take 6 months or more. Many horses with check ligament injuries suffer from repeat injuries, and may only be capable of a reduce level of work.
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE