Pop! It's Back
Recurring "popped splints" has sidelined many older equine athletes, but a group of Kentucky surgeons may have come up with a solution.
In the vocabulary of injuries a horse might receive, "popping a splint," is considered, at most, an inconvenience which requires laying the affected horse off its normal routine. However, when it keeps happening, that little inconvenience can become a surgical problem.
The key issue surrounding what in veterinary terms is an exostosis, the "popped splint" is actually where it occurs in relation to the horse's cannon bone. The horse's splint bone is
actually what is left of what was once one of its toes.
The bone is still there, it just no longer reaches the
ground. Therefore, it still carries weight, and as a
result, all of the weight the splint bone carries is
transferred to the cannon bone, which is the largest bone
of the lower leg.
To paint a picture of the injury, a
popped splint occurs where the splint bone lies against
the cannon bone. The load (the pressure the horse is
applying as it is working) that is carried from the
splint bone to the cannon bone causes a tear between the
attachment, causing the splint bone to tear away from the
cannon bone. Calcium then builds in the affected area,
sort of the body's repairing mechanism, and reattaches
the splint to the cannon bone. Problem solved - if it's
in the right place.
If the splint "pops" lower
than normal, it's actually in a weaker position. Although
the horse's body dutifully sets about repairing the area
with calcium, it's in a weaker position. So, as the horse
goes back to work after the lameness has subsided, the
repairing calcium cracks and breaks. So you're back to
square one or maybe even worse than the first time.
Sometimes the problem just keeps
reoccurring each time the horse becomes sound and goes
back to work, whether that be racing, chasing a calf or
jumping a fence. The problem occurs in all athletic
horses. However, this particular type of splint will
usually occur in an older horse versus the higher splints
that are so common in younger horses.
The first approach to any popped splint
is always the same which is primarily rest to allow the
calcium time to attach the splint to the cannon bone.
Rest is often accompanied with other treatments which are
directed at reducing the size of the splint blemish or
speeding the re-attachment. However, a new approach as
been developed by surgeons at Rood and Riddle Equine
Hospital which may solve the splints that tend to
"Instead of trying to get the
splint to calcify to the cannon bone, we just took out
the bottom part of the splint and the exostosis,"
said Larry Bramlage, DVM, an orthopedic surgeon who
developed the process. "This treatment is not
applicable for the usual splint where you cannot remove
that much splint bone. It only applies in splints that
occur in the unnecessary part of the splint bone (the
Bramlage and his team defined the
process with their work on Thoroughbred racehorses in the
racehorse-rich Lexington, Kentucky, area. However, this
process could be used, if all else fails, on other
athletic horses, as well.
"It's important to realize that
this is basically a final effort to solve the
problem," said Bramlage. "The first line of
treatment should always be in providing the horse with
rest and perhaps some other therapy, such as
Bramlage also noted that work like this
gives veterinarians concrete information with which to
advise owners so all options are presented. Objective
data needs to be used to determine the likelihood of a
horse recovering, no matter what the treatment.