Common Leg Problems: Curbs

If you see a swelling on your horse’s leg, your first reaction might be to panic questioning; will it take ages to mend, cost me a fortune and potentially affect his future? But don’t panic. With good management, most leg problems can be prevented and early intervention from your vet will more often than not lead to successful treatment.

What are they?

This term has been used to describe a swelling over the back of the hock, just above the tendons that run down the canon bone.

Traditionally the swelling was thought to be due to inflammation of the long plantar ligament located in this position. However, the advances in ultrasonographic imaging have now identified a number of additional soft tissue structures that can produce this type of swelling.

The term ‘curb’ now refers to a range of different inflammatory conditions in this region of the limb. As with splints, conformational defects can make horses more likely to develop problems.

Those with sickle hock and ‘in at the hock’ conformation are most at risk. Direct trauma in the region at the back of the hock can result in curb formation as can a straininduced injury to any of the tendons or ligaments in that area.

Diagnosis and treatment

The appearance of a curb swelling is best seen from the side – the bowing will show at the back below the point of the hock.

The degree of associated lameness is variable, from none to severe, depending on the soft tissue structure involved and the extent of the injury.

Ultrasonographic examination is crucial to decide on the most appropriate treatment and an accurate prognosis. Horses with curb swellings may also have associated hock problems such as osteoarthritis and it’s important that the source of pain is accurately identified.

In the early, acute stages, there may be obvious signs of inflammation and lameness. In more long-standing cases the swelling may be hard and fibrous, without heat or pain and only a subtle lameness or reduction in performance.

Curbs arising from direct trauma usually result in swelling around, rather than within, the tendons or ligament. These cases can usually be managed with local injection of corticosteroids to reduce the swelling and prolonged rest is not normally required.

Infection of the area may result from traumatic injury and antibiotics may be needed. Spread of infection into the tendons or ligament in that region is a serious complication requiring long-term therapy. Inflammation of the tendons or ligament in the curb region requires strict rest to prevent further tendon fibre damage. Local cold therapy and antiinflammatories are also useful.