Arthrosis in the sport horse: symptoms, treatment and prevention


    As the start of the sport season approaches, it becomes critical to address a sensitive but crucial issue for the health of our sport horses: equine osteoarthritis. In fact, this condition, if underestimated, can have a significant impact on the performance and well-being of horses.

    In this article, we will explore in detail what osteoarthritis is, symptoms not to be overlooked, risk behaviors that can lead to these disorders, and available treatments. We will also discuss the importance of proper nutrition as a prevention tool, providing practical tips to keep our four-legged athletes in the best possible shape and ready to excel on the field.

    hoof horse x-ray arthritis harrison horse care

    Equine arthrosis (or osteoarthritis).

    Before delving into the topic of osteoarthritis, it is essential to understand the structure and composition of horses’ joints, which are divided into three basic parts: cartilage, synovial membrane, and synovial fluid.

    Cartilage plays an essential role in ensuring proper cushioning of movement by protecting bone ends from friction and excessive pressure. However, when the cartilage becomes damaged, the exposure of the underlying bone can generate additional pressure on the nerves in the cord and cause pain.

    Arthrosis vs Arthritis in the horse: what are the differences?


    Knowledge of the function and importance of cartilage provides an indispensable basis for distinguishing two of the most common equine joint diseases: osteoarthritis and arthritis.

    Arthritis is an acute inflammatory condition that directly affects the joints, manifesting itself through symptoms such as pain, swelling, and functional limitations. This joint inflammation can involve both sides of the affected joints, requiring individualized approaches for treatment and management based on the severity of inflammation.

    Instead, when we talk about osteoarthritis, also known as osteoarthritis and DJD (degenerative joint disease), we mean a serious disease characterized by the deterioration of articular cartilage with consequent effects on the underlying bone and soft joint tissues. In a healthy joint, the continuous turnover of components such as proteoglycans and chondrocytes ensures adequate impact absorption and collagen production for movement and cushioning. However, if there is dysfunction, there is limitation of joint mobility.

    Symptoms of osteoarthritis in the horse

    How to tell if one’s horse has arthritis then?

    The symptoms are sometimes very similar to those affecting humans. Some key indicators that may indicate deterioration of articular cartilage are indeed:

    • Lameness following periods of rest and at the onset of movement, improving after a short period
    • Reluctance to move and some movements, such as lying down and lifting up
    • Joint swelling and warmth, indicating a phase of acute inflammation
    • Muscle tension and pain

    Prompt recognition of such signs, even through informed consultation with one’s veterinarian, enables timely implementation of therapeutic and preventive strategies that ensure the well-being of one’s pet.

    Indeed, with a flexion test, the origin of lameness can be easily identified, accompanied by diagnostic anesthesia performed during the orthopedic examination. The extent of the damage, on the other hand, can be detected by radiographs and MRI, where in case of positivity osteophytes (bone beaks), decreased joint space alterations of the cartilage surface may be observed.


    The causes of equine arthrosis

    The causes of osteoarthritis in horses are a central focus for understanding and managing this important joint condition, which primarily affects older horses and sport horses.

    Although there are no definitive studies on the disease, it is believed that a genetic component may contribute to the development of the condition. Without a doubt, avoiding risky behaviors can help prevent its development.

    Indeed, the joints of horses, especially in sport and trekking horses, are often subject to disorders and injuries due to factors such as lactic acid buildup in muscles, poor muscle condition relative to the required exercise, and mechanical stress. These factors can cause imbalances that lead to joint inflammation and injury.

    In addition, the danger due to compensation posture can aggravate the situation: when a single joint is diseased, the entire musculoskeletal system can be compromised. The horse, in order to protect itself from pain, might avoid putting weight on the affected joint or do so only on one side, causing additional stress on the other joints. This harmful posture can further damage the already diseased joint by accelerating the destruction of cartilage due to lack of nutrients.


    How to treat osteoarthritis in the horse?

    To date, one of the most popular therapies is the use of biological enhancers that target regeneration of damaged tissue by stimulating cells in the affected area. Innovative therapies such as platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and stem cells, less invasive solutions than surgery, have proven effective in promoting normal cell turnover in damaged cartilage.

    Before modern regenerative techniques, treatment options for equine osteoarthritis included short-course anti-inflammatories, hyaluronic acid infiltrations, and cortisone with temporary effects. In addition, surgeries such as arthroscopy, mosaicplasty, and arthrodesis for severe injuries were considered as definitive solutions.

    Despite available treatments, in some cases the prognosis remains poor due to the permanence of cartilage damage, although the progression of the disease can be partially arrested.


    The sport horse: how to prevent osteoarthritis?

    Preventing equine osteoarthritis is incredibly important given the lack of definitive treatments for this condition. One way to pursue this prevention is to adopt solutions that promote the horse’s joint health.

    • Musculoskeletal Wellness
      EO-3 omega-3 fatty acid supplement harrison horse care cover

      Kentucky Equine Research


      Feeding Supplements



    Supplementation with EO-3™ in the equine diet can play a significant role in promoting joint wellness in racehorses undergoing intense physical activities. This unique source of Omega-3 derived from marine sources helps restore the nutritional balance between Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, providing targeted joint support and promoting the overall health of these high-performance horses.

    • Musculoskeletal Wellness
      synovate hyaluronic acid horses harrison horse care cover

      Kentucky Equine Research

      Synovate HA®

      Feeding Supplements


    Synovate HA®

    Hyaluronic acid is a key factor in maintaining joint health in racehorses undergoing intense physical activity. Synovate HA®, a hyaluronic acid supplement, plays a key role in supporting the connective tissue of joints, optimizing their function and promoting overall joint health. This supplement offers benefit for both sport horses during training and competition and those recovering from joint injuries due to its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to maintain cartilage elasticity and lubrication. Synovate HA® with a high molecular weight, designed for efficient supplementation, is a valuable support for improving joint health in racehorses and those with high joint loads.

    • General Wellness


      ComfortStall – Stall Flooring for Horses

      Stable and Paddock Stall flooring


    ComfortStall – Stall Flooring for Horses

    The ComfortStall system offers numerous benefits for the horse’s joint health. Thanks to its therapeutic-effect memory-type surface, it adapts and returns to its original shape with each step, improving comfort for joints, tendons and ligaments. It also provides thermal insulation against cold and damp ground, and promotes quality rest, with horses that have been observed sleeping for long hours in the REM phase of sleep, which is critical for their well-being.

    • Musculoskeletal Wellness
      equissage digital set

      Niagara Equissage

      Equissage Digital Set

      Physiotherapy massage systems Stable and Paddock


    Equissage Digital Set

    Niagara Equissage represents an equine physiotherapy system designed to improve athletic performance, support recovery and promote joint wellness in the horse. This gentle, safe, and noninvasive therapeutic approach has been shown to be effective in optimizing warm-up and cool-down as well as treating a wide range of joint conditions such as arthritis, tendinitis, and other painful conditions. Niagara Equissage promotes joint mobility, muscle relaxation, stimulates soft tissue, and improves blood circulation, providing comprehensive support for joint health and overall horse well-being.

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