Injury to the suspensory ligament is a common occurrence in equine athletes and can account for up to 46% of all limb injuries. If it is not rehabbed well, the injury can significantly reduce the ability of a horse to exercise and perform to its best level.

In this blog, we take a look at suspensory ligament injuries in horses and the rehabilitation process, including the use of the water treadmill as an effective way to reintroduce exercise.

What are suspensory ligament injuries and how do they occur?

Ligaments act as support systems that attach bones to one another. The suspensory ligament attaches to the back of the cannon bone located just below the knee. Two-thirds of the way down it divides into two branches which attach to the sesamoid bones on the back of the fetlock.

The suspensory ligament plays a crucial role in maintaining efficient movement as it supports the fetlock joint during the weight-bearing phase of the stride. If a horse places too much stress on its leg, it can weaken and strain the ligament.

Event and jumping horses are most prone to suffering from a suspensory ligament injury due to constantly jumping and landing on uneven surfaces. However, dressage horses can also be at high risk due to the repetitive stress of trotting.

Suspensory ligament injuries in horses can occur in different areas along the lower limb and can be hard to diagnose. Heat, swelling, and lameness are common signs but an ultrasound or X-ray is most often used as an accurate way to pinpoint where the injury is.



The anatomy of a suspensory ligament in a horse

Common methods used in suspensory ligament horse rehabilitation

After diagnosis, a veterinarian will prescribe a rehabilitation program that allows the horse to heal and return to activity safely. This will typically include:

  • Cold therapy and anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Stall rest. The horse will need to stop exercising initially to give the ligament time to heal.
  • Gradual return to exercise. After rest, the horse will follow a program that gradually adds resistance to strengthen the ligament.
  • Depending on how severe the injury is, other interventions may be needed such as shockwave treatment or surgery.

Water treadmills for suspensory ligament injuries in horses

Water treadmills are an effective tool to use in the return-to-exercise stage of a rehabilitation program.

Compared to hard surfaces, the equine water treadmill provides gentle resistance and allows for more controlled and supervised progression. The speed can be adjusted so that the load is introduced slowly. This allows for ligaments and tendons to be strengthened without the risk of overstressing them.

In addition, the cold temperature of the water and its massaging effect will aid in the ongoing healing process. Existing pain and inflammation reduce, and tight muscles begin to relax and become more mobile.

A horse in an equine aqua treadmill

Suspensory ligament injuries in horses must undergo the correct rehab program to fully recover. Many of our users incorporate the equine water treadmill in the rehab process as a way to re-strengthen the injured ligament and allow the horse to return to exercise after initial rest.

ECB water treadmills are made using high-quality materials and installed with the latest technology and performance analysis. Discover more about the product here.