Splint Bone Disease in Horses

November 3, 2008 (published)

Most of you with horses have heard of the splint bones and may have had horses with inflammation of these bones, which are commonly called splints. The splint bones are two small bones, one on each side of the cannon bone below the knee and hock. The most common reason for inflammation in this area is when young horses are used for athletic activities at too early of an age. The bone can also become inflamed by trauma that commonly occurs from kicking or from interference from another leg when running. 

Symptoms of splint inflammation, commonly called popping a splint, are pain and swelling around the bones. It is possible that the damage is mild and only involves the ligament that holds the splint bone to the cannon bone. However, in many cases the bone is also involved and can even be fractured if trauma is the cause. For this reason, it is important that all cases of splints be radiographed by your vet to determine the degree of damage. Dr. Nancy Loving from Colorado indicates the most effective initial treatment for splints is to ice the leg with an ice boot for 1 hour 3 to 4 times daily to decrease the inflammatory response. The other initial treatment is anti-inflammatories such as phenylbutazone, keeping a pressure wrap on the leg, and maybe the most important treatment of all is rest. After a couple of weeks, a sweat wrap can be applied to heat the leg and improve circulation. After 3 to 4 weeks you can begin hand walking and after 6 to 8 weeks the horse can begin gradual work in mild cases. More severe cases and fractures require longer rest and some fractures can require surgery. Some horses will require 3 to 6 months before getting back to full work.

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