Originally published on TheHorse.com
Many equine athlete owners worry about bone and joint problems as their four-legged partners age. But these issues are just as important in young developing horses as they are in mature horses. One of the most common and potentially damaging developmental orthopedic disorders is osteochondrosis. Earl M. Gaughan, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, clinical professor of large animal surgery at Virginia Tech's Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, discussed this common developmental orthopedic disease at the 2012 Western Veterinary Conference, held Feb. 19-23 in Las Vegas, Nev.
Gaughan explained, "The overarching umbrella term 'osteochondrosis' appears to apply to the results of abnormal endochondral (within cartilage) ossification," or, simply put, the process by which soft cartilage cells transform into hard bone cells. He described several locations within the equine body that osteochondrosis favors:
Although osteochondrosis is considered a developmental orthopedic disorder, not all lesions develop on the same "schedule," Gaughan said.
"The cause or pathophysiology of osteochondrosis is not fully understood," he stated, adding that there are several factors veterinarians and researchers believe impact the disorder's development including:
Gaughan noted that most osteochondrosis lesions are easily detectable via radiography (X rays); however, ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) might enable detection of lesions located entirely within joint surface cartilage and deep below a joint's surface, respectively, that might be missed on radiographs.
"Treatment of osteochondrosis ... is dependent (on) the location and nature of each lesion," Gaughan said, listing several treatment options:
Gaughan noted that for horses treated early and appropriately, the prognosis can be "favorable." Delaying treatment, however, can reduce the chances for the horse to mature sound.
While the origins of osteochondrosis remain unclear, in most cases veterinarians are able to treat and manage the disease effectively and affected horses go on to a sound athletic career. Researchers and veterinarians continue to advance their understanding of treatment and prevention methods. "Techniques and applications are rapidly improving so there appears to be valid reason for optimism about future case management," Gaughan concluded.
Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.