Foal X-rays Could Predict Joint Trouble

In a recent study with Thoroughbred foals, researchers found that a lack of mineralization could cause future issues with hock joints.
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What if you could view X-rays of a young foal and predict problems that he might have as an adult? That might give you time to take supportive measures to prevent the problems from occurring.

That was essentially the goal behind a study conducted by Elizabeth M. Santschi, DVM, DACVS, professor of equine surgery at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and her team. They wanted to determine if incomplete formation of minerals required to grow healthy bones (mineralization), in this case knee and hock bones, in foals could predict problems later in life—such as deviations in limb straightness, misshapen bones and osteoarthritis—that can negatively affect athletic performance.

For the study, researchers selected 100 full-term Thoroughbred foals living on horse farms in central Kentucky. The team reviewed X-rays of the foals’ knee and hock joints taken during their first week of life and again at 110 to 301 days of age.

In the first-week X-rays, researchers evaluated the level of mineralization of the joints’ cartilage that would eventually turn into full-size bone (cuboidal bone growth cartilage). They found that mineralization was complete in only 46 percent of the foals.

The team then reviewed the X-rays taken when the foals were older and identified any abnormalities. In comparing their findings from the younger and older X-rays, the researchers discovered that foals whose joints had not fully mineralized tended to demonstrate abnormalities (like those mentioned above) in their hocks at the later age. Interestingly, no such relationship was shown in the knee joints.

The researchers concluded that there is an association between lack of mineralization and later issues, at least in the hock joints. Since X-rays can show incomplete mineralization in very young foals, they could be useful in early identification of potential trouble. And that, says Dr. Santschi, would allow the foal’s owner to initiate measures—such as limiting exercise for the youngster—that could help reduce the risk of future problems.

This article was originally published in the June 2018 issue of Practical Horseman. 

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