Descriptive epidemiology of joint injuries in Thoroughbred racehorses in training




Reasons for performing study: No large scale epidemiological studies have previously quantified the occurrence of carpal, metacarpo- and metatarsophalangeal (MCP/MTP) joint injuries in Thoroughbred racehorses.

Objectives: To develop an objective classification system for carpal and MCP/MTP joint injuries and estimate the incidence of these injuries in young Thoroughbreds in flat race training.

Methods: In a prospective cohort study, data on daily exercise and veterinary-diagnosed carpal and MCP/MTP joint injuries were collected from Thoroughbreds monitored since starting training as yearlings, for up to 2 years. Cases were classified in one of 4 categories: 1) localised to a carpal or MCP/MTP joint based on clinical examination and/or diagnostic analgesia; no diagnostic imaging performed; 2) localised to a carpal or MCP/MTP joint based on clinical examination and/or diagnostic analgesia; radiographs taken but no abnormalities detected; 3) evidence of abnormality of subchondral bone and/or articular margin(s) on diagnostic imaging and 4) evidence of discontinuity of the articular surface on diagnostic imaging. Incidence rates and rate ratios were estimated using Poisson regression, adjusting for trainer-level clustering.

Results: A total of 647 horses from 13 trainers throughout England contributed 7785 months at risk of joint injury. One-hundred-and-eighty-four cases of carpal (n = 82) or MCP/MTP (n = 102) joint injury were reported in 165 horses and classified in Category 1 (n = 21), Category 2 (n = 21), Category 3 (n = 72) or Category 4 (n = 70). The overall joint injury rate was 1.8 per 100 horse months (95% CI = 1.2, 2.8); rates did not differ significantly between 2- and 3-year-olds but females sustained Category 1 injuries at triple the rate of males (P = 0.03). Joint injury rates differed significantly between trainers (P<0.001) and there was trainer variation in anatomical site and severity of injury.

Conclusions and potential relevance: Carpal and MCP/MTP joint injuries are an important cause of morbidity in Thoroughbred racehorses. Identification of modifiable risk factors for these injuries may reduce their incidence.