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Are joint injections over used?

scottie are joint injections over used

Joint injections are a common treatment for a variety of injuries and conditions now. Whether they are used regularly to relieve the symptoms of arthritis or to help heal an injury, most people know a horse who has had a joint injection. But are we reaching to these injections too soon? And can they have a negative long term effect on our horses?

Scottie’s Injury & Vet Advice

When Scottie went lame and we started investigating the cause, early on my vet said we can start injecting the joints to get him right. But when I asked him if this was the best option, he said time is usually best. Joint injections don’t really treat or fix the problem, they just relieve the pain and swelling. So we decided to give him some time before starting to inject his joints. We didn’t see an improvement from rest alone and Scottie ended up have 2 joint injections about 1-2 months apart. We didn’t actually see any improvement in Scottie after either injection, they just didn’t work for him.

Speaking to a vet friend of mine, she said this was a good thing. Scottie’s injury was a small tendon tear over the navicular bursa. The first injection he had was a coffin joint injection, followed by a navicular bursa injection. If Scottie had improved after these injections it would suggest there was also a problem in his joint, possibly caused by the injury. For the bursa injection to have an effect, it would suggest the bursa was damaged to the point of leakage. So while it is frustrating that the only medical treatment available didn’t do anything, it can also be seen as a positive.

What do Joint Injections do?

Joint injections can be used to treat a variety of conditions and the type of injection given will do different things. But typically the injection works by injecting a liquid into the joint what will relieve the symptoms and/or treat the issue. Many steroid injections work by lubricating the joint & reducing inflammation. A blood sample can be taken from the horse and key healing cells taken from the blood and injected into the joint to help treat the issue.

What are the risks of Joint Injections?

As with any medical treatment, it does come with its risks. Some of the risks include:

  • Laminitis
    If the injections are steroid injections there is a chance this can cause a flare up in laminitis.
  • Infection
    As with any injection, there is always a small chance of infection, especially when you are injecting into the joint capsual.
  • Degeneration
    There is a risk of damaging the area with repeated joint injections, either from the chemicals being injected or by the process of injecting the joint.
  • Bad reactions
    As with any medication, there is always a chance your horse will react badly to it.

So are Joint Injections over used?

I think everyone has a slightly different opinion on this, depending on what angle they look at it from. On the one hand, they are fairly low risk and can have really good results. They can help a horse quickly return to work and can be quite easy to administer.

But on the other hand, there is the idea that vets and owners might be turning to joint injections too quickly. My own vet admitted that rest was probably better than injecting straight away as injections can mask the problem. Allowing the horse to return to work could just be making the injury worse.

I personally feel that especially in top level sport, in particular racing, joint injections are given out a bit too freely. Having shares in racehorses and following plenty of racehorses, they regularly are given joint injections when they develop a small issue. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of them also get rested and rehabbed. But some times it seems the joint injection is a quick stop gap and I don’t think it sits quite right with me.

I think that joint injections are a fantastic tool. I just wonder if vets need to be encouraging owners to consider giving their horse some time before reaching for the needles.

Last Updated on 26/11/2021

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