X-Rays: Should You or Shouldn't You
Horses are athletes which makes them prone to musculoskeletal injury. Sometimes, these injuries are minor and heal with little or no intervention. Other times, a veterinarian must get involved to figure out the cause of the lameness. Not every lameness case requires x-rays, but the use of appropriate digital imaging, in some cases, can result in a diagnosis. Once you have a diagnosis, treatment becomes more targeted and you improve your horse's chances of making a full recovery.
Digital radiography is a huge asset to equine medicine. It allows us to look beneath the surface and examine bone or other calcified tissues. X-ray differs from ultrasound in that ultrasound allows us to look at soft tissue such as muscle, tendons, and ligaments. Medicine has advanced rapidly over the past 10 years, and most veterinarians now carry a completely mobile x-ray system. At Coastline Veterinary Services, we recently invested in a brand new partially wireless digital system that helps us see bone in great detail.
One such case in which x-rays resulted in a diagnosis is this one: A 19 year old thoroughbred gelding who had a long history of intermittent left front lameness. A thorough exam was performed and no swellings or sensitive areas were noted on the limb. Therefore, a diagnostic nerve block was performed to determine where the pain was originating from. After numbing the foot, this horse felt much better leading us to believe that the pain was originating from the foot. X-rays revealed a large fracture of the navicular bone. This occurred secondary to severe navicular disease. The navicular disease is unfortunately chronic and degenerative. This horse was started on anti-inflammatories and shoeing recommendations were made to provide heal support. Additional treatment options that were discussed included the use of bisphosphonate drugs IM or IV and/or steroids into the joint or navicular bursa.
Without x-rays, it would have been very difficult to determine the cause of this horse's lameness. Due to advances in modern medicine, we can now offer many of the same diagnostics you see in human medicine to our equine companions. With advances in diagnostics, comes advances in treatments. Who knows what the future will bring!