Thursday, April 8, 2010

Hock versus stifle: Which is hurting?

 A friend of mine has a horse with an ouchy right hind. Maybe it's a fool's pastime, but we can't resist playing armchair diagnostician while awaiting the vet visit. We did a little research in both unimpeachable sources (Adams lameness in horses in Google Books) and on the Internet in general. Setting aside the possibility of a hip problem, here are some points of collective wisdom of the Internet on the distinguishing characteristics of a hock versus stifle problem.
  • Adams lameness in horses says that on flexion, a horse with hock pain will exhibit a stronger pain reaction than one with a stifle (more dramatic lameness).
  • While many of the symptoms are similar, Adams lameness in horses says that a toe first landing (stabby motion) is more typical of hock pain.
  • According to a COTH posts...
    • If horse puts hinds down onto the midline (slightly inwards, so the weight lands on the outside of the hoof) it might well be a hock issues.
    • Standing with a hindleg crossed under (at midline level again), may again well be indicative of hock pain.
    • Horses with stifle injuries tend to stand with the leg (hip to toe) pointing outward.
    • Stifle problems will give a "bunny hop" motion, especially at the canter or when walking downhill. Hocks may show less hock action, swinging rather than flexion.
    • Another one I forgot to add would have been backing up, horses having trouble backing up are often stifly.
 So what about the collective wisdom of blog readers? Any tips or hints?


    1. In my experience as an equine massage therapist I see owners jumping on the stifle train. It's like people getting an ache in their hands they automatically scream arthritis. Owners do the same with hind end lameness and stifles.

    2. IME, I think if you have one you will mostly likely have the other to some degree. Particularly if the horse has changed their way of moving to deal with the pain.

      So my only tip, start with the best sports medicine vet you can find.

    3. No certainty here, but having had both issues with horses, stifle problems are more likely to improve with an exercise to increase muscle fitness, but hock problems do not.

      I tend to agree about the leg going more to the outside with a stifle and inside and under with a hock. The twisting in action would be more painful if the stifle were sore as it would stress the joint more. That's why horses with a right stifle issue don't like to take the left lead as the right hind has to stride "in" on the circle and vice versa for a left stifle problem.

    4. Aside from an accident or inheritance, I often wonder what causes a good stifle or hock to go bad, especially if the horse is only working on the flat in dressage training. Dressage should strengthen the muscles surrounding and supporting the stifle. If the horse works with his hocks under him, the joints are in the most efficient position to carry and transfer weight. I have heard the opinion that dressage "really uses" these joints. But historically dressage was developed to preserve the horse and extend his working life. I tend to think that the problem is not dressage as it should be trained, but a failure to meet the training principles, whether they be principles in balance of the horse/rider, conditioning, or the limitations imposed by nature.

    5. I do think conformation plays a role in hock/stifle issues. Stifles, especially, that lack enough angle are more prone to injury/soreness. The ligaments have to work harder to keep the joint stable and are more likely to be stretched/stressed.

    6. In my experience...if the horse carries and rests the "sore" leg up underneath commonly hock. If the horse carries and rests the "sore" leg out behind commonly stifle. Sorry for the late comment on this...doing some searching myself on the hock versus stifle question. My gelding has been moderately off for the past week but not enough to put him on rest...that is until today. As of today, he is 3 legged...he is walking on the toe but carrying it up underneath and resting it up underneath. When I lunged him on concrete (couldn't get him to go more than 5 steps at a walk)...he carried the leg up underneath him but only putting weight on his toe (standing or walking).


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