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Abstract

Two of the forearm flexors of the horse, the superficial and deep digital flexor muscles, are critical to support the digital and fetlock joints, exhibit differing insertions, and are passively supported by the proximal and distal check ligaments, respectively. These two muscles differ in histochemical composition and architecture. The differences are correlated with the different stress levels transmitted through their tendons, and the different frequencies of clinical breakdown that have been reported. Both muscles contain type I and type IIa fibers. A few type IIb fibers occurred in the deep digital flexor. The superficial digital flexor contained approximately 56% type I fibers, extremely short muscle fibers, and extensive connective tissue investment. In contrast, the deep digital flexor had three muscle heads: ulnar, radial, and “long” and “short” regions of the humeral head. The “long” and “short” regions of the humeral head contained 33% and 44% type I fibers, respectively, fiber lengths three to four times as long as those in the superficial digital flexor, and relatively less connective tissue investment. Flexor carpi radialis and flexor carpi ulnaris compared most closely with the humeral head of the deep digital flexor. These data suggest a correlation of the unique architecture of superficial digital flexor with its proposed elastic storage properties during locomotion in horses, and an explanation for the frequent breakdown of the superficial digital flexor in athletic horses. © 1992 Wiley-Liss, Inc.