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Extension > Agriculture > Livestock > Horse > Horse health > Arthritis in the knee

Arthritis in the knee

Lauren Bullock, senior veterinary student, University of Minnesota

A joint is composed of 3 parts: the cartilage, the synovial membrane, and the synovial fluid.

If you have ever been diagnosed with degenerative joint disease, you understand what a horse goes through when diagnosed with arthritis. Arthritis is caused by wear and tear damage that hasn't been repaired. A joint is composed of 3 parts: the cartilage, the synovial membrane, and the synovial fluid. Cartillage covers the ends of the bones and is mainly used as a shock absorber. Cartillage lacks nerves. However, as the cartilage is destroyed, the underlying bone is exposed. Pain is due to the pressure on the nerves in the bone as well as the inflammatory agents found in the synovial fluid and damaged cartilage. Unfortunately, these inflammatory agents create more cartilage damage, leading to a vicious cycle.

Treatment of damaged cartilage is difficult and often impossible in both horses and humans. This means osteoarthritis will continue to progress over time. Management of arthritis involves managing the pain and optimizing joint health. This will vary by the joint(s) affected and by the use of the horse. Your veterinarian may prescribe a combination of joint protectants (glucosamine, chondroitin), pain relief (phenylbutazone, firocoxib), and/or joint injections (corticosteroids, hyaluronan). It is also good to evaluate the need for weight loss, farrier work, altering exercise levels, and rehabilitation programs. These programs may vary by time of year and how your horse responds so it is good to have your horse re-evaluated on a regular basis.

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