California Riding Magazine • August, 2008

Hock Injections
The Good, The Bad and The Dangerous

by Dr. Kim Sergent

Most performance horse owners and riders have heard the term “injecting the hocks,” but what is it really? What does it do for our equine athletes? I am often amazed at the number of people who have their horses’ hocks injected and don’t really understand what they are doing to their horses’ joints.

If It’s Not Broke, Don’t Fix It!

First of all, as a horse owner you should have some understanding of the anatomy of the hock and how it works. As you can see in the diagram (figure 1) there are four joints in the hock. Numbers two, three and four are what we call low motion joints. These are the most common problem areas.

Since there are three joints there, you need to make sure you are injecting only the problem joint(s). If you inject a “good” joint, you could do major damage to the cartilage in the joint. Many times you can use simple therapies like Adequan, Legend and even shock wave therapy to help your horse, instead of putting them at risk by injecting. Chiropractics and acupuncture can also help to keep your horse balanced, help them evenly distribute their weight, maintain healthy joints and decrease injuries to joints and their associated tendons and muscles.

Preventative Joint Injections Are a Myth

There is no such thing as a preventative joint injection. Injecting the hock is serious business and can be quite expensive. To make sure you are doing the right thing for your horse and not wasting your money, radiographs are needed to properly diagnose what is going on in the hock. Your veterinarian can then inject only the affected area(s) and determine what type of medication to inject. Once diagnosed, your vet may recommend alternative therapies before taking the big jump to injecting a joint.

The only reason one should ever inject a joint is to treat a problem that cannot be properly treated with any other therapy. There are a wide variety of issues that can cause a horse to exhibit hock lameness. If joint injection is determined to be the most appropriate treatment, there are a wide variety of medications available, many of which are designed to do a specific job within the joint. Selecting the appropriate medication for your horses’ condition is extremely important to the effectiveness of the treatment. Once you inject a hock you must continue injections to keep the horse comfortable, especially if you don’t consider the rest of the horse’s body.

The Risk

I would love to tell you that hock injections are fool proof and very safe, but the fact of the matter is that any time you inject something into a sterile joint capsule you are taking a substantial risk. There are two things to worry about when injecting. The first is “flare.” Flare occurs when the horse’s body reacts adversely to the injection causing painful inflammation at the site and lameness.

The other risk is joint contamination, which causes an infection within the joint. Did you know that it only takes 100 organisms to infect a joint, while it takes one million to infect a skin laceration! If the horse survives the infection it can be career ending due to joint destruction, because treatment is not always successful, and is very expensive.

For more info call All County Equine Services (A.C.E.S.) at 619-659-3532 or visit www.acequine.com. Let us know if you would be interested in attending a free seminar about joint injections.