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Equine Vet J. 2004 May;36(4):346-50.

Prevalence of superficial digital flexor tendonitis and suspensory desmitis in Japanese Thoroughbred flat racehorses in 1999.

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Equine Research Institute, Japan Racing Association, 321-4, Tokami-cho, Utsunomiya-shi, Tochigi, 320-0856, Japan.



Overstrain injuries to the superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT) and suspensory ligament (SI) are among the most common musculoskeletal injuries which contribute to the considerable wastage of racing Thoroughbreds. Many epidemiological studies have demonstrated the prevalence of and risk factors for tendon injury when racing but have not included those injuries sustained during training. However, since tendon injury during training is seen commonly in clinical practice, it is appropriate to determine the overall prevalence of tendon injury sustained during both training and racing.


To determine the prevalence of overstrain injury to the SDFT and SL during training and racing among Thoroughbred flat racehorses in Japan in 1999.


A retrospective study was performed using a sample population of 10,262 Thoroughbred racehorses. The medical information database of Thoroughbred racehorses registered by the Japan Racing Association (JRA) in 1999 was analysed for SDFT and SL overstrain injury diagnosed by a veterinarian employed by JRA during training and racing. Jump racehorses were excluded from this study.


The prevalence of forelimb SDFT tendonitis and SL desmitis was 11.1% (1130 cases) and 3.61% (370 cases) of the population, respectively. In the hindlimb, there were 0.06% (6 cases) and 0.14% (14 cases), respectively. Risks of SDF tendonitis in the forelimb in 3-year-olds or older horses were significantly higher than in 2-year-olds. In contrast, the risk of SL desmitis in the forelimb at age 3 and 4 years was 2.23 and 2.11 times higher, respectively, than in 2-year-olds, but this increased to 5.07 times in those age > or = 5 years. Entire males were at greater risk in comparison to females and geldings.


The results suggest that the prevalence of SDF tendonitis and SL desmitis in the forelimb was associated with the horse's age and sex. The prevalence of SL desmitis increased further with age compared with SDF tendonitis, possibly reflecting a more rapid accumulation of degeneration in this structure.


The age-related risk demonstrated in this study provides further support that overstrain injuries are associated with accumulated degeneration. These data provide a valuable resource for further research into the aetiology of tendon injury in the racehorse.

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