South Shore Equine Clinic & Diagnostic Center
Equine Veterinary Services South Shore Boston Massachusetts

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I have a horse with a “clubbed” foot. My vet wants me to further increase the angle of the foot to reduce tension on the deep digital flexor (DDF) tendon, which he says is too tight. Won’t the tendon tighten up even more and make the problem worse if we do this?

Answer:

The angle of the LF pastern and foot, the contracted heels, and the evidence of wall delamination (i.e. the dished dorsal wall) all suggest that he has too much tension in his DDF tendon (i.e. it is too “tight”). It seems that alleviating the tension on the tendon by raising his heels with the wedged pad would only allow it to contract further (become even tighter), whereas stretching it by imposing greater tension (i.e. dropping the heels) would normalize it's length and tension.

Although this makes perfect sense, it is extremely difficult to achieve in older horses. We find that some horses develop contactural deformity(ies) in one or both thoracic deep flexor muscles/ tendons when they reach their mid to late teens. Although we are not sure as to the cause, it does appear to be a progressive problem.

Generally, dropping the heel and increasing the tension on the DDF tendon in older horses does not effectively stretch/ lengthen the tendon. Rather, it accentuates the problems occurring as a result of excessive DDF tension: laminitis, navicular inflammation, dorsal wall delamination, contracted heels, DDF tendinitis, etc. We would expect that lowering your horse’s heels would do the same.

We do recommend massage therapy of the flexor tendons in an attempt to discourage further contraction. Although we're still not certain as to it's effectiveness, it can only help.

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