Reasons for performing study: Lameness has often been suggested to result in altered movement of the back, but there are no detailed studies describing such a relationship in quantitative terms.
Objectives: To quantify the effect of induced subtle forelimb lameness on thoracolumbar kinematics in the horse.
Methods: Kinematics of 6 riding horses was measured at walk and at trot on a treadmill before and after the induction of reversible forelimb lameness grade 2 (AAEP scale 1–5). Ground reaction forces (GRF) for individual limbs were calculated from kinematics.
Results: The horses significantly unloaded the painful limb by 11.5% at trot, while unloading at walk was not significant. The overall flexion-extension range of back motion decreased on average by 0.2° at walk and increased by 3.3° at trot (P<0.05). Changes in angular motion patterns of vertebral joints were noted only at trot, with an increase in flexion of 0.9° at T10 (i.e. angle between T6, T10 and T13) during the stance phase of the sound diagonal and an increase in extension of the thoracolumbar area during stance of the lame diagonal (0.7° at T13, 0.8° at T17, 0.5° at L1, 0.4° at L3 and 0.3° at L5) (P<0.05). Lameness further caused a lateral bending of the cranial thoracic vertebral column towards the lame side (1.3° at T10 and 0.9° at T13) (P<0.05) during stance of the lame diagonal.
Conclusions: Both range of motion and vertebral angular motion patterns are affected by subtle forelimb lameness. At walk, the effect is minimal, at trot the horses increased the vertebral range of motion and changed the pattern of thoracolumbar motion in the sagittal and horizontal planes, presumably in an attempt to move the centre of gravity away from the lame side and reduce the force on the affected limb.
Potential relevance: Subtle forelimb lameness affects thoracolumbar kinematics. Future studies should aim at elucidating whether the altered movement patterns lead to back and/or neck dysfunction in the case of chronic lameness.