Magnetic resonance imaging of the equine foot: 15 horses


Centre for Equine Studies, Animal Health Trust, Lanwades Park, Kentford, Newmarket, Suffolk CB8 7UU


Reasons for performing study: Foot pain is a common cause of equine lameness and there have been significant limitations of the methods available for the diagnosis of the causes of foot pain (radiography, nuclear scintigraphy and ultrasonography). Until recently, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in the horse has been limited to examination of cadaver limbs.

Objectives: Our purpose was to 1) describe MRI of the foot in live horses, 2) describe MRI findings in horses with foot pain in which a definitive diagnosis could not be established by alternative means and 3) correlate MRI findings with other methods of clinical investigation.

Methods: The feet of 15 horses with unilateral (12) orbilateral (3), forelimb (14) or hindlimb (1) lameness associated with foot pain of previously ill-defined origin were examined using MRI. The horses were examined in right lateral recumbency under general anaesthesia, with the feet positioned in the isocentre of a flared end 1.5 Tesla GE Signa Echospeed magnet. Images were obtained in sagittal, transverse and dorsal planes using 3-dimensional (3D) T2* gradient echo (GRE), spoiled gradient echo, fat-saturated 3D T2* GRE and short inversion recovery sequences. Image acquisition took approximately 1 h.

Results: Abnormalities of the distal interphalangeal joint (DIP) cartilage and /or subchondral bone, periarticular osteophyte formation, distension of the DIP joint capsule with or without synovial proliferation, distension of the navicular bursa with or without evidence of chronic inflammation, surface and core lesions in the deep digital flexor tendon, abnormal signal within the navicular bone, evidence of mineralised fragments in the distal sesamoidean impar ligament, irregular outline of and signal in the medial cortex of the distal phalanx, and an abnormal signal on the dorsal aspect of the distal phalanx consistent with laminitis were identified.

Conclusions: MRI permits the diagnosis of a variety of lesions involving different structures within the foot that cannot be diagnosed using other means, thus enhancing our knowledge of the causes of foot pain.

Potential relevance: With further experience it is likely that lesions involving other structures will also be identified. Long-term follow-up data is required to determine the prognosis for the injuries described.