When a horse suffers a cartilage injury, especially a severe one, if the horse is an athletic one, there is a chance that it will no longer be able to compete. Even a small amount of damage to the cartilage can derail a promising, athletic career.
When cartilage is healthy it is smooth, tough and fibrous. It lines the joint’s bones and acts as a cushion to those bones which bear the majority of a horse’s weight. Cartilage is resilient and tough. It is built to take a lot of pounding and withstand a great deal of force. However, it can and does sustain injury. When it does, it is typically very slow to heal. This is due to the fact that cartilage has no nerve elements, blood vessels or lymphatics. When a horse sustains damaged cartilage, there is a risk above and beyond the initial injury. Degenerative disease and conditions may occur as a result of the injury.
Damaged cartilage not only occurs because of injury or considerable physical stress placed on the joint or cartilage but also because of development defects, such as osteochondrosis and other degenerative diseases. Whether the damage to a horse’s cartilage is due to injury or a defect, it is important to treat it as soon and effectively as possible.
Equine cartilage injury or damage requires the care of a veterinarian. He or she will develop a ‘plan of attack’ that is appropriate for the injury and its scope.
Cartilage damage can occur as a result of age. As horses age, they are more susceptible to joint problems. Injury, stress or trauma to the joints and arthritis are also common culprits. Overtime, even the healthiest horses will experience damage to the cartilage, mostly due to natural wear and tear. It’s the nature of the beast. However, the damage can be accelerated when some sort of injury to the cartilage occurs often when forced to withstand a great deal of stress, which is more likely to occur amongst athletic horses. When it does, a horse may experience lameness, pain and inflammation. A horse’s career may effectively be over the injury is serious and in some cases, even mild.
Athletic horses are more susceptible to cartilage damage and wear and tear because they engage in strenuous activity on a regular basis. The earlier a horse starts to compete and train, the sooner they will begin to wear down their cartilage. The places where they will experience the most damage and wear will depend on what type of athletic horse it is. For instance, race horses will experience problems in different areas then draft or show jumpers.
Cartilage damage and joint damage is somewhat synonymous. Joints are made up of cartilage, along with a soft tissue and synovial fluid. The joints most often injured in horses are in the legs. When the joints begin to come under stress, swelling may occur. If this is not treated immediately, the cartilage may begin to breakdown. In horses, the result is pain, and decreased flexibility in the short term. Overtime, this may develop into joint disease of the degenerative nature and arthritis. If a horse’s cartilage injury is not effectively treated, eventually, the horse’s cartilage will totally erode and what’s left is bone on bone.
When horses experience cartilage damage, they will generally experience pain, stiffness, inflammation and an inability to perform. Crepitus and heat are other common symptoms.
Damaged cartilage is generally first diagnosed using palpation. This involves deeply touching the injured area. The veterinarian will be looking for inflammation, pain and heat. The horse will then undergo a lameness examination to determine where the injury is located. Flexion tests and then regional anesthesia may also be performed. A radiographic image of the injury may then be taken. This is often done to verify an initial diagnosis or to pinpoint exactly where the injury is located so that it can be treated properly. Because cartilage injuries are so common, veterinarians are very adept at diagnosing them.
Damaged cartilage will generally affect all horses some time in their life. It is often the result of wear and tear. However, athletic horses are more prone to it and generally experience it earlier in life then those used for other purposes. In addition to wear and tear, these horses and others may experience cartilage damage as the result of injury and joint stress caused by strenuous activity.
PRP As A Suitable Treatment Option
PRP (platelet rich plasma therapy) is a form of therapy that is growing in popularity for the treatment equine cartilage damage. There are several reasons for this. It is non-invasive, affordable and harnesses the horse’s body’s natural ability to heal itself. It has also proven to increase the rate in which horses heal. These are positives on all accounts and the latter, especially so for athletic horses.
PRP therapy has been used in other forms in medicine for a number of years. However, it has only in more recent years been used to treat soft tissue issues and damage in both human beings and animals. Though its use for these purposes is relatively new, it is quickly expanding. PRP as a form of equine treatment for soft tissue damage is expanding at a pretty rapid clip. The simplicity of the therapy, along with its effectiveness, is one of its primary draws.
PRP therapy involves drawing a small sample of the horse’s blood, which is then placed in a high speed centrifuge. The centrifuge separates the components which make up the blood. The platelets are removed and injected into the point of injury. The platelets are the “superstars” in the process. They contain growth factors and other proteins which help to accelerate the healing process. Because they are used in concentrated amounts, the effect is multiplied. PRP therapy is sometimes combined with other non-invasive treatments such as stem cell therapy or IRAP. Taken together, they often help expedite the healing process.
PRP therapy is a good treatment for cartilage damage because the therapy can be implemented immediately and without a great deal of fuss. After it has been administered, there is no long recovery period related to the procedure, few potential complications and the improved prospect of accelerated healing.
PRP has proven to be successful in the treatment of cartilage damage and is beginning to be used with increased regularity for the care of arthritic horses, and other soft tissue conditions and injuries. The buzz surrounding the treatment has been positive and as new studies and use increases, the benefits of PRP are being solidified in the minds of veterinarians and horse owners, alike.
Traditionally, equine cartilage damage is treated using a range of treatments. The exact treatments used are based on the horse’s injury, the extent of it and what type of work the horse does. For instance, an athletic horse may receive a different course of treatment then those horses designated for personal or leisure use.
Rest, exercise and diet management, the administration of chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine HCL, Visco-supplementation, ice, physical therapy, the use of anti-inflammatory medication, surgery and corticosteroid injections are common ways in which the condition is treated. PRP therapy is better then many of the aforementioned because the treatment is natural, complications are non-existent and though it is non-invasive, it’s very effective.
PRP treatment can be performed on either a farm or in clinic. When performed in the latter, it is considered an outpatient procedure. To begin the process, the veterinarian will draw whole blood from the horse after it has been given a local nerve block and sedated. The blood drawn from the standing horse will be placed in a centrifuge and processed. The platelets, once separated, are injected into the injury. Ongoing monitoring of the injury will take place with the use of an ultrasound machine. The horse may be re-examined monthly for the first two months and then every two to three months until complete healing has taken place.
After the implementation of PRP therapy, the horse will need to rest and then allowed to participate in controlled exercise.
Further applications, after the initial one, may be needed depending on the severity of the injury. Complications are generally nil because the horse’s own blood components are utilized in the procedure. This is one of the biggest benefits associated with the use of PRP therapy and is partly why it is considered such a valuable therapy. The risk of complications is minimal. This helps to reduce anxiety amongst both horse owners and veterinarians. If the procedure is ineffective, while unfortunate, it won’t result in any damage to the horse.