check ligament injury in horses

Dealing with Check Ligament Injury in Horses: Causes, Treatment, and Recovery

by | Jul 30, 2023 | Equine Health, Equine Treatment

Have you ever come across the term “check ligament injury” in horses and wondered what it is all about? Let me take you through it. In essence, it’s a unique sort of injury seen in our hoofed friends, most often affecting what we call the inferior check ligament (ICL), or in more scientific terms, the accessory ligament of the deep digital flexor tendon (ALDDFT).

The ICL is located just at the back of both front and rear cannons in all horses and even little ponies. Quite crucial to their movements and athletic performances, especially in demanding events like Show Jumping or Eventing.

In fact, I would argue that the ICL is indispensable when it comes to horse sports. It’s a bit like the supportive friend that helps stabilize the limb, prevents excessive stretching of the tendon, and contributes to maintaining balance during those quick, agile movements.

Anatomy of the Inferior Check Ligament

Curious about where exactly this ligament is situated? Well, if you could see inside a horse’s limb, you’d find it snug between the suspensory ligament and the flexor tendons. Imagine the ligament having the job of sharing the limb’s tensile load with the DDFT during the stride. It’s like a built-in shock absorber!

And if you’re wondering what makes it vulnerable to injuries, look no further than its own structure—short, wide, and snugly fitted. This can make it a bit tricky to spot and deal with when an injury happens.

Incidence and Causes of Check Ligament Injury

If you ask around, you’ll find check ligament injuries are quite common, especially in horses that have celebrated their tenth birthday. But why is that? Well, think of it as a kind of wear-and-tear that comes with aging, which affects the ligament’s tensile strength.

Though commonly resulting from twists or pivots during athletic activities, you’d be surprised how often these injuries occur when horses are simply at rest in the field. This just goes to show why we need to keep a constant eye out for our equine friends. I’ve found the Professional’s Choice Equine Sports Medicine boots to be a worthwhile investment for those seeking additional leg support for their horses.

And while we’re on the topic, regular veterinary check-ups and dietary supplements like NUTRAMAX Cosequin Equine Optimized with MSM can play a crucial role in managing the aging process of horses. After all, a little extra care can go a long way.

Dealing with Check Ligament Injury

Let me tell you, when your horse has a check ligament injury, it’s a real nightmare. Some horses will experience the symptoms differently. Acute cases usually come as a shock. One minute the horse is fine, the next there’s severe lameness, and you can actually feel the heat and see the swelling around the tendons in the upper cannon area.

Chronic cases are another beast altogether. Imagine your horse dealing with these small but consistent strains over time that end up as a persistent, annoying lameness. Poor thing might even have permanent lameness and changes to the limb, thanks to those pesky adhesions.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to accurately diagnose the ligament damage. You need this for effective treatment. One tool that might help is a portable Ultrasound Scanner. It’s non-invasive and gives you a clear picture of the soft tissue structures. However, do note that it requires an expert eye or good understanding of what to look for. Ask your vet for assistance and hopefully you’ll be able to do check up on your own daily. In chronic cases, I’d suggest doing repeated ultrasound scans during the recovery period – this will give you a solid indication of how the healing is going and a prognosis for getting back to work.

If you’re a horse owner, make it a habit to regularly examine and feel around the back of the cannon bone. Pay special attention to the tendons and ligaments. Notice any swelling? Even if your horse seems okay, call the vet right away.

Now, onto the treatment...

First Aid for Acute Cases: Cold water hydrotherapy, ice packs, bandages, and anti-inflammatory meds

As soon as your horse shows signs of acute check ligament injury, jump into action. Bring out the big guns like cold water hydrotherapy or those handy ice packs. I personally love these Ice Boots. Thse will provide support and help reduce swelling. Administer some NSAIDs if you have them on hand – they’re great for reducing pain and swelling.

Rest is absolutely crucial during the initial stages of recovery. I usually recommend a week off before introducing a controlled exercise program. When it comes to equipment, something like the Weaver Stacy Westfall Training Activity Ball can be a game changer for rehabilitation by promoting light movement and play.

The treatment might vary depending on how severe the injury is. Sometimes, vets will inject products into the damaged areas, usually 2 to 4 weeks after the injury. And let’s not forget about the amazing advances in biologic treatments, like PRP and stem cell therapy, which have shown fantastic results in equine ligament and tendon injury treatment. These treatments use the body’s own healing processes to improve the quality of the repair tissue. Other methods like shockwave therapy and therapeutic ultrasound can also play a role in the recovery process.

In some cases, the situation can get so bad that surgical intervention is required. Imagine having to cut the inferior check ligament just to release it when there’s a significant tear! This is a last resort though – it can result in chronic lameness.

What about recovery?

Recovery from a check ligament injury can take forever – think six months or more. Using an ultrasound, like this portable Ultrasound Scanner, can give you a clear idea about how the healing is coming along.

Chronic cases can have a tough time because of changes to the limb, often resulting from adhesion formation. Therapeutic devices such as Back on Track Therapeutic Exercise Boots can be a lifesaver for managing these changes.

I’ve found that the outlook for getting back to full athletic performance in a straightforward case of check ligament damage is usually pretty good. But let’s be honest, if you’re dealing with repeated injuries or age-related degeneration, the future isn’t so bright. In the end, how the horse fares will depend on the extent of the injury, the horse’s age and condition, and the quality of treatment and rehabilitation. But that’s horses for you, always keeping you on your toes!

Related: Strategies for Dealing with a Permanently Lame Horse – Supportive Care and Mobility Enhancements

Prognosis and Prevention

You know, dealing with check ligament injuries in horses reminds me of an old friend of mine who used to say, “If you think you’re walking a tightrope, try taking care of a horse with a ligament injury!” Ligaments are real stubborn when it comes to healing, and the poor old horses are left dealing with this nagging weakness.

So, what can you do, you ask? Well, for starters, be prepared to be on watch round the clock during recovery. I mean, those ultrasound scans? They’re your new best friend. I’ve used it a few times, and it gives you a pretty good idea of how the healing is going.

But let me tell you, if you want to avoid all this hassle, prevention is your ticket. I’m talking about regular exercise, the kind that toughens up the ligaments without straining them. And don’t even get me started on diet. A balanced diet can work wonders! Try throwing in some supplements like Farnam Next Level Equine Joint Fluid. I’ve seen it do some good.

Oh, and don’t be fooled by a horse that seems fine. They’re tough cookies, and they won’t show discomfort easily. A tip from me to you? Invest in some good protective boots. I personally swear by the Professional’s Choice Equine Sports Medicine boots. And keep checking your horse regularly. I once discovered a swelling on the back of the cannon bone in one of my horses – no lameness or anything. But boy, was I glad I found it!

Related: Wrapping a Horse Leg: Preventing Injuries in Your Equine Friend



Check ligament injuries in horses can be a real pain in the neck, especially with our elderly pals or the athletic ones. But hey, don’t lose heart! Yes, these injuries can creep up on you, ranging from sudden lameness to those pesky strains that just won’t quit. But remember, catching them early is half the battle won.

And I can’t stress this enough – get professional help. The right vet can make all the difference.

And you know what? Despite all the hurdles, it warms my heart to see a horse recover well from a check ligament injury. Yes, it’s a long road, but with the right care and a whole lot of love, they usually get there. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

About The Author

<a href="" target="_self">Emily Wilson</a>

Emily Wilson

I'm from the very heart of Kentucky, you know, the place folks think of when they talk about horse love. Had the luck of growing up smack dab in the middle of some of the most awesome horse spots you'd ever see. Can't imagine starting my day any other way than being in that homely barn, waist-deep in horse stuff. My routine? It's a bit of everything really - taking care of the horses, bonding with them, you name it.

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