Forelimb navicular bones and associated soft tissues were collected from 3 groups of horses and subjected to pathological examinations. The groups consisted of 38 horses with clinical navicular disease (ND) and 2 control groups, with no history of forelimb lameness, consisting of 25 age-matched mature horses (A-MC) and 9 immature horses (IC). Histological and histomorphometric studies were performed on tissue samples from 10 ND, 10 A-MC and 5 IC horses.
Gross changes seen only in ND horses included: full thickness defects in the palmar surface fibrocartilage, palmar cortex erosion, medullary lysis, flexor digitorum profundus tendon (FDPT) surface fibrillation, FDPT core lesions and adhesions between the FDPT and navicular bone. Palmar surface partial thickness fibrocartilage loss and distal border fragmentation were seen with a significantly greater incidence in ND than in A-MC and not observed in IC. Remodelling of the proximal border, FDPT surface colouration, palmar surface fibrocartilage colouration and proximal border entheseous bone were identified in ND and A-MC but not in IC. Mid-ridge synovial fossae and horizontal depressions in the palmar surface were identified in all groups.
Histologically palmar fibrocartilage thinning and loss were associated with reduced palmar fibrocartilage cell density and chondrocyte cluster formation. Palmar fibrocartilage fibrillation, palmar cortical bone defects, fibromyxoid stromal change in the medulla, medullary pseudocyst formation and entheseous new bone formation were all seen in ND. The adjacent FDPT showed fibrillation, tag formation and degeneration of the dorsal surface. Necrotic foci were also present within the body of the tendon. Although not always present, medullary bone pseudocysts, separate mineralised foci and most changes on the dorsal surface of the FDPT were specific to ND.
Bone histomorphometric parameters were compared among groups. Cross-sectional area reduced from the sagittal ridge to the medial and lateral margins of each navicular bone. IC navicular bones had a smaller subchondral area, subchondral bone volume and a greater osteoid volume than in the AC, indicating that these differences were age-related. In ND the medullary area was decreased but the trabecular bone volume increased. The palmar subchondral area was increased but contained bone with an increased porosity and osteoid volume. Changes occurred from the medial to the lateral margins of the bone in horses with ND indicating remodelling of the bony elements throughout the bone in ND.
The histological and histomorphometric changes in the navicular bone and palmar fibrocartilage were considered similar of those found in articular hyaline cartilage and subchondral bone in osteoarthritis.