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Superficial digital flexor tendonitis in Thoroughbred race horses: outcome following non-surgical treatment and superior check desmotomy



Objective This study documents the results of non-surgical treatment and treatment by superior check desmotomy in Thoroughbred racehorses with superficial digital flexor (SDF) tendonitis.

Design A prospective study was made of 124 thoroughbred racehorses with unilateral or bilateral SDF tendonitis.

Procedure The flexor tendons were assessed by physical and ultrasonographic examination before treatment, and the lesions detected in affected tendons were characterised according to lesion type, length and cross-sectional area. Ninety three horses were managed non-surgically and 31 by superior check desmotomy. Recurrent or new injuries were defined as injuries affecting a previously injured superficial digital flexor tendon, the contralateral SDF tendon, or the suspensory ligament (interosseous muscle) in either forelimb.

Results No statistically significant difference was found in ultrasonographic lesion severity between treatment groups. Horses managed by superior check desmotomy were 1.3 times more likely to complete five or more races than horses managed non-surgically (95% confidence limits 0.93–1.82). Horses treated surgically were 1.2 times more likely to develop recurrent or new injuries after returning to training than horses managed non-surgically (95% CL 0.95–1.55). Horses under-going superior check desmotomy were 5.5 times more likely to develop suspensory desmitis than horses treated non-surgically (95% CL 1.13–26.4). There was no difference in the time to recurrent or new injury between treatment groups.

Conclusion There was no statistically significant difference between treatment groups in the proportions of horses able to complete five or more races after an episode of superficial digital flexor tendonitis. Superior check desmotomy did not appear to offer an advantage over non-surgical treatment in preventing recurrent or new injuries in Thoroughbred racehorses. Horses undergoing superior check desmotomy appeared to be at greater risk of developing suspensery ligament injuries than horses managed non-surgically.

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