• horse;
  • ultrasonography;
  • variability;
  • tendon;
  • cross-sectional area


A quantitative investigation of the variation that can occur during the course of ultrasonography of the equine superficial digital flexor tendons (SDFT) was undertaken. The aim of this investigation was to use an objective measure, namely the measurement of CSA, to quantify the variability occurring during the course of the ultrasonographic assessment of the equine SDFT. The effects of 3 variables on the CSA measurements were determined. 1) Image acquisition operator (IAc): two different operators undertaking the ultrasonographic examination; 2) image analysis operator (IAn): two different operators undertaking the calculation of CSA values from previously stored images; and 3) analytical equipment (used during CSA measurement) (IEq): the use of 2 different sets of equipment during calculation of CSAvalues.

Tendon cross-sectional area (CSA) measurements were used as the comparative variable of 3 potential sources: interoperator, during image acquisition; interoperator, during CSA measurement; and intraoperator, when using different analytical equipment.

Two operators obtained transverse ultrasonographic images from the forelimb SDFTs of 16 National Hunt (NH) Thoroughbred (TB) racehorses, each undertaking analysis of their own and the other operator's images. One operator undertook analysis of theirimages using 2 sets of equipment.

There was no statistically significant difference in the results obtained when different operators undertook image acquisition (P>0.05). At all but the most distal level, there was no significant difference when different equipment was used during analysis (P>0.05). A significant difference (P<0.01) was reported when different operators undertook image analysis, one operator consistently returning larger measurements.

Different operators undertaking different stages of an examination can result in significant variability. To reduce confounding during ultrasonographic investigations involving multiple persons, one operator should undertake image analysis, although different operators may undertake image acquisition.