Reasons for performing study: The compensatory mechanisms of horses with weightbearing hindlimb lameness are still not fully understood.
Hypothesis: That weightbearing, unilateral hindlimb lameness would not only alter stride characteristics to diminish structural stress in the affected limb but also induce compensatory load adjustments in the other supporting limbs.
Objective: To document the load and time shifting mechanisms of horses with unilateral weightbearing hindlimb lameness.
Methods: Reversible lameness was induced in 8 clinically sound horses by applying a solar pressure model. Three degrees of lameness (subtle, mild and moderate) were induced and compared with the nonlame (sound) control measurement. Vertical ground reaction forces were recorded for all 4 limbs simultaneously on an instrumented treadmill.
Results: Compared to the sound situation, moderate hindlimb hoof lameness induced a decrease in stride duration (-3.3%) and stride impulse (-3.1%). Diagonal impulse decreased selectively in the lame diagonal stance (-7.7%). Within the diagonal limb pair, vertical impulse was shifted to the forelimb during the lame diagonal stance (+6.5%) and to the hindlimb during the sound diagonal stance (+3.2%). Peak vertical force and vertical impulse decreased in the lame limb (-15%), but only vertical impulse increased in the contralateral hindlimb (+5.7%). Stance duration was prolonged in both hindlimbs (+2.5%). Suspension duration was reduced to a greater extent after push-off of the lame diagonal limb pair (-21%) than after the sound diagonal limb pair (-9.2%).
Conclusions: Four compensatory mechanisms could be identified that served to reduce structural stress, i.e. peak vertical force on the affected limb: 1) reduction of the total vertical impulse per stride; 2) diagonal impulse decreased selectively in the lame diagonal; 3) impulse was shifted within the lame diagonal to the forelimb and in the sound diagonal to the hindlimb; and 4) the rate of loading and peak forces were reduced by prolonging the stance duration.
Potential relevance: Load shifting mechanisms are not only effective in diminishing peak forces in the affected limb, but also suppress compensatory overload in other limbs. Selected force and time parameters allow the unequivocal identification of the lame limb. Future studies have to examine how far these compensatory mechanisms may be generalised for other defined orthopaedic problems in the hindlimb.