Thursday, May 8, 2008

Does your horse have SI/hip pain?

Does your horse have pain in the hip/sacroiliac (SI) region? I asked myself this very question a few weeks ago as I watched Harvey on the end of a lunge line. He was definitely gimpy and reluctant to trot out. He does have hock issues, but to my layman's eye, it looked like there was something wrong "higher up." A few weeks off did him wonders, but I researched hip/SI pain while he rested. The article Clinical Features of Pain Associated with the Sacroiliac Joint Region: A European Perspective offers some indicators for pain in the SI region. Note that as you get further down the list the symptoms get more vague.

Disclaimer: In the first version of this article, I lumped the hip and the sacroiliac together, mostly because "sacroiliac" is not an everyday term. As a reader noted in comments, the hip and the sacroiliac regions are different. The sacroiliac region is depicted to the right. The hip joint is further down and attaches the femur to the pelvis. An illustration of the horse skeleton should clarify this a bit.

A study of horses who were diagnosed with sacroiliac pain showed these behaviors:

  • Horses may stand with their thoracolumbar region (between sections 3 and 4 in picture above left) a little roached.
  • Horse may shift weight constantly between the two hindlimbs.
  • Some horses showed exaggerated sinking of the hindquarters when pressure was applied over the tubera sacrale (jumper's bump).
  • When palpating the thoracolumbar region or tubera sacrale, spasm of the epaxial muscles (pictured right) is common.
  • Hoses may show restricted flexibility of the thoracolumbar region or became agitated despite showing a normal range of motion (I think this was measured in the clinic via a treadmill).
  • Reluctance to stand with one hindlimb flexed, bearing weight on the other limb, or reluctance to allow one or both hindlimbs to be picked up was seen in ~25% of horses.
  • When examined moving in hand on a hard surface, the most common feature was reduced hindlimb impulsion. Sometimes seen:

    • rolling hindlimb gait
    • moving wide behind
    • moving close behind
    • few plaiting
    • more than one gait abnormality

  • Showing lameness in only one hindlimb is not associated with hip/sacroiliac pain. It was only seen when a specific problem was identified in that hindlimb (e.g., hock)
  • Some horses turn abnormally about their own length, show stiffness or a tendency to pivot on the forelimbs, or are reluctant to cross the hindlimbs normally.
  • Stiffness and poor hindlimb impulsion are observed on the lunge, but not necessarily one-sided lameness (unless attributed to another cause).
  • Bucking at the canter is common.
  • Some horses break to canter rather than increase hindlimb impulsion, whereas others show a poor quality canter manifest as four-time canter, repeatedly changing legs behind, or becoming disunited.
  • Sometimes problems are only apparent when ridden.
  • Horses often feel worse to a rider than they look, even to a skilled, experienced observer.

  • Lateral work (e.g., shoulder-in, half-pass) is particularly difficult. Canter is stiff and stilted, often four beat and difficult to maintain. Some horses canter crookedly on three tracks.

  • Some of these horses re also extremely reluctant to go forward.

S.J. Dyson and R. C. Murray. Clinical Features of Pain Associated with the Sacroiliac Joint Region: A European Perspective In: 50th Annual Convention of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, 2004.

See also:

Understanding sacroiliac pain Horse and Hound

Sacroiliac Pain from The Horse magazine

Back pain and the sacroiliac joint in horses from


  1. Great post! I am going to forward this on to a client of ours, with a large pony/ small horse sized gelding who has been showing some of these behaviors. I have been trying to explain where the pain might be, and not having any luck. This post is liable to be the perfect "fix" for our communications!

    Great timing too! ;)

  2. Excellent post on the topic. Horse owners should know that a horse can come back from SI injuries. I've blogged a bit on my horse's SI injury, rehabilitation, and his progress back towards the top of his game.

    Just an FWIW though, the hip joint and the sacro-iliac joint are not the same.

  3. Thanks -- can you provide a url for your posts? I'll add it to the article.

    I think this link differentiates the hip from the sacroiliac region

    The article does focus on the sacroiliac area. My horse's issues are more in the hip, I think, but some of the symptoms are the same(the ones toward the bottom)

    A good distinction to make, though, and the title could be misleading.

  4. Ive been researching a lot on this SI/hip pain and symptomatically it sounds very much like my horses problem. He was my barrel prospect until all this came about which I first thought was just an attitude problem but then knowing him I saw that he was hurting. I love this horse dearly and would be content to just trailride on him, but he's not able to do even that at this point. I want to know the treatments that people have tried and with what success..thanks from me and my horse Hank :)

  5. I have been researching this SI/hip pain and it sounds symptomatically just like my sweet horse Hank. He was initially my barrel horse prospect but I would be content to trailride on him but he's not able to do even that right now..I thought at first it was just a bad attitude problem but I know my horses and I could tell quickly that he was vet said stifles but I had them injected and my gut says that is just not the problem. Anyway Im curious as to what treatments others have tried and with what kind of success..Thanks from Me and my horse Hank :)

  6. This post is JUST what I was looking for! Every symptom describes my mare. It was origionaly thought it was hock pain and poor conformation that was causing her to be unsound. Thanks!

  7. Good post! Are there any/many positive stories? My 5yo been lame for roughly a yr since I got him, just been diagnosed with SI problem. Heartbreaking. Hate him in pain & was hoping he'd be my jumping horse. Had the injection & gonna bring him back into work & see what happens :(

  8. This is a nice little summary. It perfectly describes the issues with my ex FEI eventer and upper level dressage horse. It started out as loss of power in extended trot work, increased difficulty with lateral work, progressing to complete reluctance to canter and continually changing leads behind. The difficulty was that he only ever exhibited the behaviours under saddle and until I videoed it and showed the vets they never believed me, often treated me like I didn't know anything about biomechanics or feel when riding! Once they saw the video.... well, then they looked in the right places! When you've ridden a horse for 10 years since he was a breaker you know him inside out as a rider, so keep looking for your answers! Unfortunately there has been nothing for him except retirement. Although after a long and successful career, I think he is quite happy about that! LOL.

  9. This is so helpfull as my horse probly has this problem is there any way that it can be fixed or any more info about this? Anyone can e-mail me at please. My name is Nicole. Thank You.

  10. I am trying to figure out what the issue is with my gelding. It seems as though this post was the closest that came to describing it, so far. Is there a chance you might have any short videos or know where I can view a short video of a horse displaying these symptoms so I can further my research in finding an answer to my horses' issue? My name is Tara and thank you for the post.

  11. Summed up and very informational and spot on.

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Hi Guys, Your comments are valued and appreciated -- until recently I never rejected a post. Please note that I reserve the right to reject an anonymous post.