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Friday, July 26, 2013

Plantar Annular Ligament Desmitis in a Horse


A 10 year old gelding presented for bilateral rear-limb lameness associated with excessive "wind puff" formation. The gelding typically had some wind puff formation above the rear fetlock joints but it had suddenly increased and subsequently the lameness was noted. Physical exam noted moderate to severe fluid accumulation within the distal flexor tendon sheaths, otherwise known as wind puffs (Figures 1-2). The fluid within the flexor tendon sheath tends to accumulate at the top of the sheath due to a very thin band of connective tissue that spans the back or plantar/palmar aspect of the fetlock. This tissue is called the plantar/palmar annular ligament (PAL) of the fetlock (Figure 2 (blue circle))

Figure 1
When fluid begins to accumulate within the tendon sheath due to simple tenosynovitis of the sheath or a tendon/ligament injury, the PAL becomes restrictive resulting in a "wind puff" (Figure 2, red circle), which consists of a pocket of fluid noted just above the fetlock joint. As the fluid increases in volume the PAL is stretched and inflammation develops within the ligament. Once inflammation develops within the PAL, lameness in that limb is common.

Figure 2
 Diagnosis is confirmed via ultrasonic exam. In Figures 3-4, the flexor tendons within the sheath are imaged and include the superficial flexor (SDF: blue) and deep digital flexor tendon (DDF: green). In addition, the PAL is visualized directly above the SDF tendon. Normally, the PAL is very thin and only measures 2-4mm in thickness. In this horse, the PAL measured nearly 10mm in thickness (blue arrows) and there were pockets of edema (black areas) along with poor fiber alignment! Chronic thickening of the PAL ligament may result in the inflammation within the SDF tendon which will significantly worsen the prognosis and lameness!  For this reason, careful examination via ultrasound is key.

 (Figure 3
 In this particular horse there does not appear to be involvement of the SDF or DDF tendons. The PAL appears very thick and inflamed. In Figure 4, the same area is imaged in a cross sectional view (left image) and a transverse view (right image). The significant amount of edema and disrupted fiber pattern within the PAL is quite evident in the both views!! Management of this condition involves corrective shoeing, topical anti-inflammatory application, and in my opinion surgical intervention. Once the PAL is grossly thickened, it is my experience that only surgical transection of the PAL ligament will provide a long term solution for the horse. It is very important to thoroughly ultrasound the limb through the pastern area to ensure that no ligaments or tendons are involved!! Finally, wind puffs are a common occurrence in many sport horses and usually indicate that the horse is in steady work. However, asymmetric wind puffs or a sudden increase in size is not normal and merits examination by your veterinarian!!

Figure 4

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