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Equine Vet J. 2003 Nov;35(7):681-90.

Lameness in 46 horses associated with deep digital flexor tendonitis in the digit: diagnosis confirmed with magnetic resonance imaging.

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  • 1Centre for Equine Studies, Animal Health Trust, Lanwades Park, Kentford, Newmarket, Suffolk CB8 7UU, UK.



The differential diagnosis of foot pain has long proved difficult and the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) offers the opportunity to further the clinical understanding of the subject.


To determine the incidence of deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT) injuries in a series of 75 horses with lameness associated with pain localised to the digit, with no significant detectable radiographic or ultrasonographic abnormalities, using MRI; and to describe a variety of lesion types and relate DDF tendonitis with anamnesis, clinical features, response to local analgesic techniques and nuclear scintigraphic and ultrasonographic findings.


All horses undergoing MRI of the front feet between January 2001 and October 2002 were reviewed and those with DDFT injuries categorised according to lesion type; horses with primary tendonitis (Group I) and those with concurrent abnormalities of the navicular bone considered to be an important component of the lameness (Group II). The response to perineural analgesia of the palmar digital nerves and palmar (abaxial sesamoid) nerves, intra-articular analgesia of the distal interphalangeal (DIP) joint and analgesia of the navicular bursa were reviewed. The result of ultrasonography of the pastern and foot was recorded. Lateral, dorsal and solar pool and bone phase nuclear scintigraphic images were assessed subjectively and objectively using region of interest (ROI) analysis.


Forty-six (61%) of 75 horses examined using MRI had lesions of the DDFT considered to be a major contributor to lameness. Thirty-two horses (43%) had primary DDFT injuries and 14 (19%) a combination of DDF tendonitis and navicular bone pathology. Lesions involved the insertional region of the tendon alone (n = 3), were proximal to the navicular bone (n = 23) or were at a combination of sites (n = 20). Lesion types included core lesions, focal and diffuse dorsal border lesions, sagittal plane splits, insertional injuries and lesions combined with other soft tissue injuries. Many horses had a combination of lesion types. Lameness was abolished by palmar digital analgesia in only 11 of 46 horses (24%). Twenty-one of 31 horses (68%) in Group I showed > 50% improvement in lameness after intra-articular analgesia of the DIP joint, whereas 11 of 12 horses (92%) in Group II had a positive response. Twelve of 18 horses (67%) in Group I had a positive response to analgesia of the navicular bursa. Nineteen horses had lesions of the DDFT extending proximal to the proximal interphalangeal joint seen using MRI, but these were identified ultrasonographically in only 2 horses. Scintigraphic abnormalities suggestive of DDFT injury were seen in 16 of 41 horses (41%), 8 in pool phase images and 8 in bone phase images.


DDFT injuries are an important cause of lameness associated with pain arising from the digit in horses without detectable radiographic abnormalities. Lameness is not reliably improved by palmar digital analgesia, but may be improved by intra-articular analgesia of the DIP joint in at least 68% of horses. Ultrasonography is not sensitive in detecting lesions of the DDFT in the distal pastern region, but a combination of pool and bone phase scintigraphic images of the digit is helpful in some horses. Further follow-up information is required to determine the prognosis for horses with lesions of the DDFT in the digit and to establish whether this is related to lesion severity and/or location.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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