Injuries of the distal extremities are common causes of forelimb and hindlimb lameness in horses used for pleasure-riding and performance competitions. Structures prone to injury include the navicular apparatus, the deep digital flexor tendon, the distal interphalangeal joint and the metacarpophalangeal joint, to name just a few.
During a standard lameness evaluation, veterinarians rely on a positive response to diagnostic analgesia and evidence of radiological abnormalities in the distal limb to diagnose the source of the lameness. However, lame horses sometimes do not exhibit radiological abnormalities in the distal limb, or the severity of the radiological abnormalities detected does not correlate with the clinical signs. In these cases, the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) becomes necessary to obtain a definitive diagnosis.
Magnets are described in terms of their field strength in Tesla units; the higher the field of strength, the clearer and easier it is to detect more subtle lesions. Since 2007, the Veterinary Teaching Hospital had offered low-field MR imaging of the distal extremities of horses. The high-field MRI system (MAGNETON Skyra Siemens) installed last November now allows us to perform fast and more detailed evaluations of the distal extremities of horses presented for lameness work up.
With this 3.0 Tesla MRI system we can obtain high-quality images of the foot, pastern, fetlock, metacarpal/metatarsal region, carpus, and tarsus. The detailed diagnostic information allows Illinois equine clinicians to identify osseous or soft-tissue injuries sooner and begin appropriate treatments.
The use of high-field imaging for lameness diagnosis in horses represents a major step forward for our sports medicine services at the University of Illinois. The current cost of MRI evaluation is approximately $1,700, which includes one night of hospitalization prior to the procedure.
If you have any questions regarding MRI services or would like to make an appointment, please call us at (217) 333-2001.
—Dr. Santiago D. Gutierrez-Nibeyro, MS, DACVS, DACVSMR