Navicular Disease In Horses

Navicular disease is one of the most common causes of equine chronic forelimb lameness and can cause major frustration and expense for horse owners. When our horse isn’t sound, not only are we worried about his long-term well-being, but we also lament not being able to compete, train, or simply enjoy the simple pleasures of hacking out.

What Is Navicular syndrome?

Navicular disease (also known as navicular syndrome or caudal heel syndrome) is a degenerative condition of the navicular bone that can appear in horses of any breed or discipline, but is essentially unknown in ponies and donkeys.

 

Twenty years ago vets were sure that navicular disease was a degeneration of the navicular bone in the foot, however we now recognise that this is but a small part of the condition. This “classic” disease of the navicular bone is now known as navicular bone disease, and forms one part of navicular disease. The other part of navicular problems is degenerative changes in or damage to other structures in the foot. Overall, the potential structures that can be involved in navicular disease and associated lameness are:

In a particular equine, any combination of the above structures may be involved in the navicular.

 

Navicular syndrome can be limited to one limb. However, it most commonly affects both front hooves, causing bilateral lameness. While veterinarians have documented it in the rear feet, these cases are very rare.

What Causes Navicular syndrome In Horses?

Vets believe navicular syndrome is caused by mechanical stress and strain due to the constant pressure between the navicular bone and DDFT, which leads to the degeneration of those and other structures that make up the podotrochlear apparatus, including the navicular bursa. Poor foot conformation and incorrect shoeing, such as a long toe and low heel, increases this stress and might intensify development of the condition.

What Are The Signs Of Navicular syndrome In Horses?

Navicular most commonly presents as a forelimb lameness in one leg, but on investigation is often found to be present in both front feet. Characterised by shortness of stride, toe-first landing and pain from the center third of the frog, the lameness that is seen varies from slight to moderate and only rarely is severe lameness seen. Working in a circle often exacerbates the lameness, usually on the inside leg.

What Causes Navicular syndrome In Horses?

At present, the exact primary cause of navicular syndrome is not known. However, because of the relationship between hoof angles and the podotrochlear apparatus structures in equines, shoeing, hoof care, as well as conformation, can contribute to the condition. Strain and sports-related injury from highly physical disciplines requiring hard turns, fast stops, lateral movement, and jumping, can also compound the problem

How Is Navicular syndrome In Horses Diagnosed

There’s no cure for equine navicular syndrome; rather, it’s about managing affected horse’s comfort.

 

Technological advancements can now give us a clear picture of the navicular-related changes taking place within the horse’s hoof and magnetic resonance imaging has become the gold standard for determining which structures are involved and the extent of damage to soft tissue structures such as the navicular bursa and deep digital flexor tendon. X-rays are still important for examining the navicular bone and other bony structures in the foot and changes that are occurring. However, the same radiographic changes that lame horses have on x-ray can sometimes be found in sound horses and depending on the type of horse, their age, and workload, some radiographic changes may be within normal limits and not cause lameness.

 

Ultimately, a thorough hands-on lameness exam that includes a visual analysis of the hoof and its abnormalities, along with palpation and flexion tests, should be the starting point.

Treating Navicular syndrome In Horses

Navicular syndrome often requires a multipronged treatment approach that might include rest, anti-inflammatory drug treatment, shock wave therapy, and correct hoof care and shoeing that improves the hoof-pastern axis.

 

As hoof angles and, more specifically, low heel-long toe foot conformation, play a crucial role in the health of the podotrochlear apparatus structures, corrective trimming will lie at the heart of any effective treatment plan. The aim is to achieve a more upright foot, with greater weight-bearing toward the heel and traditionally egg bar, heart bar and full round shoes have all been used, in conjunction with heel wedges when required.

Treating Navicular syndrome with the support of FormaHoof

FormaHoof’s reusable mould system offers a highly effective solution that instantly realigns the horse’s hoof angles and rebuilds the heels, allowing the correct biomechanics of the foot to be restored. Horses can gain immediate elevation and comfort from their FormaHoof application, which allows them to bear weight correctly and increases blood flow to the entire hoof, supporting healthy natural growth and healing within the podotrochlear apparatus structures.

 

A growing number of horses around the world have been and are being successfully supported in their navicular rehabilitation with FormaHoof. You can find out more and read about them in the cases section of our website.

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