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

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My horse has been diagnosed with "degenerative joint disease". What does this mean?


Degenerative joint disease (DJD) is a common cause of decreased performance in equine athletes. Lack of performance often precedes overt lameness and/or radiographic changes. The degenerative cycle is initiated as a result of joint instability. Instability may occur pursuant to trauma/injury, damage to the supporting soft tissue structures of the joint (ligaments), and overuse. Inflammation of the joint's synovial membrane (a condition called synovitis) occurs secondary to joint instability. The presence of inflammatory cells within the synovial membrane results in 1) increase in hydrostatic pressure within the joint and 2) release of catabolic enzymes (lysozymes) and other chemical mediators into the joint. The increased hydrostatic pressure results in the influx of fluid into the joint, distension of the joint capsule, and pain (the joint’s nerve endings are within the joint capsule). The enzymes released into the joint degrade hyaluronan (the molecule that gives synovial fluid its thick and slippery characteristics) as well as the articular (cartilage) surface. Erosion of the cartilage surface results in loss of articular congruency, which in turn causes increased joint instability. And the cycle begins.

Since we are limited in our ability to enhance joint stability in the horse, we rely on medications designed to reduce inflammation and enhance/normalize synovial (joint) environments in the face of instability. These medications are referred to as "arthrotherapy", and include both systemic (e.g. Adequan®, Legend®, Bute) and local (HA, steroids) forms.

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