How to treat a tendon injury…

Since I am pre-loading most of my entries while I am off pet sitting I figured I would talk about stuff I know. I have treating a tendon injury down. I wish I had no experience with it, but what I know about superficial digital flexor tendons could fill a book. Since I have noticed that many people who find this blog are looking for information on how to treat a trauma to the tendon I figure I will go through step by step what to do when a tendon emergency occurs.

Now I am not a medical professional. CALL YOU VET IF YOU SUSPECT AN INJURY! I am just a horse owner who has been through a bad tendon injury so take my advise with a grain of salt.

How can you tell it is a tendon injury? Most likely the horse will be limping. They will be able to put weight on the leg so you know it is most likely not a break, and you will feel a hot spot on there tendon. When Genny first hurt his tendon there was a bump on the back of his leg where the tendon was and it was hot. The first thing you need to do is to get the horse into a safe location. Either a wash stall or there own stall. In the first 72 hours I was told that the less movement my horse had the better. I counted his steps every day and made sure he took as few as possible.

Now call you vet! Once the horse is safe inside talk to the vet as soon as possible. Every vet likes things to be done differently so make sure you follow your vets guidelines. My vet told me to give Genny a half a dose Banamine since he was in such bad pain. He could hardly walk in under his own power from the field.

Right off the bat you should apply ice or cold horse the leg for 10 minutes to try and control as much swelling as possible. There are articles claiming that iceing is better than cold hosing and vice versa. I personally liked cold hosing because it make me feel like I was doing something. I would ice when the weather was really cold or rainy (I didn’t want to flood the wash stall) but cold hosing is just my own personally preference.

Now it is time for a very messy job. Poultice. It is a clay like substance you can by at any local tack store. I have literally used over 7 gallons of poultice on Genny’s leg since the injury so while I recommend keeping a small tub around at all time if you suspect an injured tendon you might want to buy the big tub. I used 3 different kinds, they all worked about the same way. Uptight was the brand that was the least wet so if you don’t want to get messy you might want to consider that one. You should also have news paper handy. Before you poultice the leg tear the news paper into a section large enough to cover the injured area and then some.

To apply the poultice you should have a layer that is thick enough to cover the hair but thin enough so it will dry out in a few hours. If you glob it on there very heavily you wont be sucking the heat out of the leg, only trapping it in to bake. If you do it to thin it wont be able to get all the heat out. After the poultice is on take your news paper out and cover the clay so no poultice is sticking out.

After poultice has been applied you need to get a wrap on ASAP. If you have never done a stable bandage before in your life I hate to say it but this is really not a good time for you to start. You can do more damage then good if you wrap incorrectly. If you think your horse has a tendon injury and you do no know how to wrap call a friend, trainer, or vet to come out and do it for you the first time and teach you. I don’t care if you live in the middle of no where and don’t think anyone can come out. Page your vet, call the local training facility, go to the tack store, just find anyone with experience wrapping.

If you have never wrapped a stable bandage before you really ought to practice now, with a healthy horse and an experienced person to help you out. I just cannot stress enough how dangerous wrapping is if you are out of practice or unsure what you are doing. Now assuming you know how to wrap you should have the correct supplies. The vet at the local horsey hospital, a tendon specialist who has people come from all over the east coast to see her, isn’t a fan of no-bows. I bought them when Genny was first injured but I just didn’t like them so I never used them. Hearing her agree with me that they are not the best made me take them and throw them away. Now they are fine for shipping I am sure, but I personally would not use them for an injury.

My personal preference for quilts is a quilt that is not to fluffy but not to thin. A local tack store had a brand called “The Mill Crossing” I think it was that I really liked. I also am a fan of champion quilts. I have 8 pairs of quilts now, all different brands, but those are my 2 favorites. Now you can use knit or synthetic stable bandages. NEVER USE POLO WRAPS WITH QUILTS. EVER. Polo wraps are flexible to give support when a horse is moving like when it is riding. If you have an injured horse you do not want a wrap that gives that much because you are trying to contain the swelling with pressure. I personally like knits, but that is probably just because that is what I am used to and what I learned to wrap with, and I do have both so synthetics were used on occasion.

Once you have your horses legs (you only have to poultice the injured one but make sure you wrap both legs. You wouldn’t like to walk around with one shoe on all day) put the horse back in the stall and make sure they have access to plenty of hay and water. Get a vet out to ultra sound the injured area as soon as possible. If they cannot make it out until the following day you should repeat the cold hose/ice, poultice, wrap routine at minimum every 12 hours. If you go longer then that not only will you have icky wraps but your horse might start playing with them causing bandage bows.

So that concludes my mini-tutorial on how to deal with a tendon emergency. Any questions/thoughts/opinions?

12 thoughts on “How to treat a tendon injury…

  1. Yup, I have so been there and done all that and more with my previous horse.

    You are right to stress that wrapping MUST be done correctly or you can do more harm than good.And it’s so true you must be sure the horse you are wrapping doesn’t chew or pull on the bandages! Even the best bandaging job can become dangerous as the horse causes the wraps to put uneven pressure on the tendons if it grabs them in its teeth and tries to pull them off. That’s when a muzzle, bib or neck cradle would be needed to prevent them from doing it.

    My favorite bandaging materials are the “no bow” quilts and cotton flannel bandages. I learned from a gal at the track many years ago to wrap this way and it’s the best way for me. The cotton flannels are great. Nowadays they are sold pre-cut with velcro closures but the old way is to buy heavy cotton flannel fabric by the yard and cut it into 5″ x 9′ lengths, then roll it up to make your own bandages. It’s cheap, doesn’t stretch and you can get a few sets from one piece of fabric. LOL, I’m so old school, I even know how to use bandage pins! But I prefer masking tape these days.

    This is an important topic for all horse owners to know. Good post!

    • hi i have a question i hav a gelding woth a minor tendon injury he is out in a large field and has the occasional trot or canter. he seems sound and it doesnt seem to be bothering him wil this harm him

  2. Solitare Mare – It is so funny how we all just settle into a wrapping pattern and keep our favorites! The manager of Genny’s barn loved synthetic wraps so there was always a set around in case she had to wrap him in emergency, but I just wasn’t a big fan. And good mention to be careful that a pony doesn’t take his own wraps off…Genny was such a good boy I forget to stress that!

  3. Kristen – Put something gross tasting on the wraps. A popular flavor is chili powder. You can also spray a little lemon or lime juice. They make comercial sprays that taste bad…look for something advertised as an anit-cribber…usually it just tastes so gross the horse wont want to bite on it anymore. Now once you make the wrap not taste so yummy you should get down to the root of the issue. Usually a horse that is pulling its wraps off is bored. I know I would be bored in a 12×12 box all day, even with fresh hay and water around all the time. You should consider getting some stall toys. Genny’s favorite is just an empty small plastic milk carton. There is a local store that sells milk in those plastic bottles with handles that are quart sized. I would bring a new milk jug in every few days so he had something to do. Jolly balls, giggle balls, and stall pascifiers are also a good idea if you can afford them. Anything you can do to keep your horse stimulated and keep his mind off of his wraps is a good thing. Good luck with the injury!

  4. How do you know if it is a tendon injury? My horse is walking fine on his injured leg and it puttin fulll weight on it. My vet prescriebed minimal movement, a furison sweat wrap at night, and cold rinsing in the morning and before you put the wrap on. But the fact that he is walking on it is odd, but he does have a big bump behind his ankle which is where the suspected injury is. Please help!

  5. AQHA Lover – I am not a vet, just a horse owner who’s horse almost died of a really terrible tendon injury last year (most tendon injuries are not life threatening). The answer to your question is to have your vet look at it. Since it sounds like he has not looked at it but you have talked to him about the injury and he has assumed that it is probably located on the tendon from your description. Now my horse was only lame for the first few hours after he hurt his tendon. After the initial trauma he was 100% sound (and still is) and was willing to put equal weight on the leg after about 1 week. Every horse and every injury is different though but as long as you are wrapping your horse correctly chances of him getting hurt worse because of it are not great so treating it like a tendon injury is doing no harm. Sorry that it wasn’t the best answer in the world but without knowing your horse and seeing the bump I really don’t know.

  6. great info! we horse owners eventually become like amateur veterinarians by the time we’re done treating all our horses’ injuries, wounds and illnesses…

    i’m with solitairemare – i’m a fan of the no-bows (i worry about the quilts bunching up under the bandages and causing cording,) and i love the flannel bandages too – i still do mine up with bandage pins! but i also keep a handy set of knits with velcro around, as they are easy to use and wash. and, sometimes if i’m using poultice or something messy (or for draining wounds) i’ll make a set of ‘quilts’ from sheet cotton that i can throw away when i’m done.

    i also keep my poultice in the refrigerator. i know, it sounds weird, but it’s just one more cold thing to apply. and i LOVE the ice horse first+ice boots with the gel packs – i keep a bunch of them in the freezer for injuries, etc.. because i’ve got 7 horses to do by myself when i get home and i usually don’t have time to cold hose. but, you’re right about the ‘baking’ – i’m definitely guilty of putting my poultice on to thick sometimes :-\

    my last ‘tendon’ tip is, if possible, i set up a 12×12 pen outside for the horse so he still thinks he’s getting turned out. they can’t move around any more than in a stall, but it makes a huge difference in keeping some rehab horses quiet. my retired jumper recently dislocated his tendon (the superficial separated from the deep flexor and was flopping around off the side – the vets said they’d never seen that happen in a front leg… lucky us :-\ ) anyway, he’s a total turnout freak, and the only way to keep him happy was to put a little pen in the corner of his paddock so he was out and could see his buddies… just a thought🙂

    anyway, great post. thanks for the info!

  7. hi, my wee felabella was on grass and got stuck in the muck on his hind leg and with the force off his pulling it out hes ruptured his tendons, its not very swoll and he was able to bare weight on it to bring him in but from then hes just resting his leg on the toe off his hoof, the vet said it cudnt be broken if he was able to walk on it but its now been 13days and theres no improvment and he wont put it to the floor at all ive his strapped up and on bute and anti inflamatrie (sorry for the bad spelling) but havnt cold hosed him, would that be why hes showing no signs off improvment? a very worried owner……..the vet cant get to me as the snow is so bad here in ireland😦

  8. We recently had a colt born at the barn I have begun to work at recently. He was born about 3 weeks early and was orphaned due to the mare having a uterine rupture. We have noticed his front left ankle is VERY week. Where as his right one has strengthened, he is now favoring his left and it collapses when walking. What is the best way brace it so to strengthen it? You can tell he is in pain but I can’t imagine keeping him off of his leg is helping. We palpitate it trying to help, but we are at a loss. Any ideas?

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