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Bone Chips in Horses

August 18, 2014

Injuries to joints are some of the most common lameness problems in sport horses.


I’ve been told my horse has a bone chip in his knee. What can we do to help him?

For the answer, we sought the advice of the American Association of Equine Practitioners:


Injuries to joints are one of the most common lameness problems in sport horses. The most common injuries are bone chips (intra-articular chip fractures) in the knee (carpus) and ankle (fetlock) joint or inflammation of the synovial membrane and joint capsule (synovitis and capsulitis). When there are small fragments of articular cartilage and bone in the joint, they cause irritation to the synovial membrane and clinically appear the same as synovitis and capsulitis. A specific diagnosis is usually made after viewing radiographs (X-rays).

Cases of synovitis and capsulitis can be treated with intra-articular injections and therapeutic medications. The careful use of the right corticosteroid in the right dose can be effective and safe. Other drugs that are used for the treatment of inflammation in these joints include hyaluronic acid and polysulfated glycosaminoglycans.

While synovitis and capsultitis are most commonly recognized in the knee and ankle, they also commonly occur in the coffin joint, the distal hock joint and the stifle.

Bone chips are often best treated by removal by arthroscopic surgery. In the case of the treatment of joint fractures or cartilage injuries, the goal of treatment is to restore the articular surface and minimize the development of degenerative changes in the articular cartilage, a condition known as degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is the consequence of an injury that is too severe or chronic. Osteoarthritis is a permanent form of arthritis with progressive loss of the articular cartilage in a joint, commonly leading to a horse’s retirement.

*AQHA and the provider of this information are not liable for the inherent risks of equine activities. We always recommend consulting a qualified veterinarian and/or an AQHA Professional Horseman.