So for the 3rd article on the foreleg I decided to change things up a bit and talk about the common dysfunction I find regularly in the foreleg. Before I get into the subject, I just want to clarify what I mean by dysfunction: a dysfunction is an unwanted modification of the normal function of a tissue. For example, a joint dysfunction is usually a restriction in the range of movement of the joint. But a dysfunction is different from a pathology, where the structure is damaged. So in short, dysfunction is what your practitioner deals with, pathology is when your vet should get involved 🙂

Common dysfunction of the elbow:

A lot of the elbow dysfunctions that I see are compensation and disappear once you’ve addressed the primary issue, most of the time the shoulder, sometimes the fetlock or the rib cage. But there are some cases where I have to spend a bit more time on the elbow itself, and there’s usually 2 muscles that are causing the issue, either the triceps when the dysfunction is located at the olecranon, or the biceps when it’s located at the front of the joint.

What I find really cool is that the body is able to tune in a specific part of a muscle to compensate from pain and discomfort. So for example, when the triceps is maintaining the elbow in dysfunction, it’s rarely the ENTIRE muscle, it can be the tendon that  is attached onto the olecranon, or the lateral part of the muscle, or the medial part of it! And each set of tension will have a different effect on the mobility of the elbow 🙂

When the elbow has a dysfunction coming from another joint, like I said, it’s usually the shoulder and/or rib cage. And it makes sense, considering the amount of muscles that are in that area! Sometimes the compensation is for something else though, and in cases of tendonitis or tendon injury, the elbow will take its share of tension, even if it will look like nothing compared to what the shoulder and lower neck will endure!

Common dysfunction of the carpus

The carpus, or knee, is such a cheeky one. With the amount of bones and ligaments in it you might expect it to have very often articular dysfunction, but I actually find that most of the time, it’s not the case. Weird right? I find that it’s an area that develops dysfunction in 3 scenarios:

  1. the horse falls on its knees, and bones are physically shifted. This will impact both extension and flexion movement AND will restrict the elastic abilities of the flexor tendons. If left unattended, this can lead to tendon injuries “coming out of nowhere” 😦
  2. Strain on the fetlock: we’ve seen in the article on the joints of the foreleg that there is a BIG ligament behind the carpus, and that this ligament continues with the suspensory ligament. And we’ve seen in the article on muscles, that the suspensory ligament is SUPER IMPORTANT in the fetlock mechanism. Well, unfortunately this means that horses who over use their fetlocks also develop tension in the carpus, and often it reduces the adaptability of the tendons during hyperextension of the fetlock. Once again, a winning combination for tendon injuries.
  3. Both ends compensation: it’s something that I don’t see that often but that I think is worth mentioning. Both ends compensation is my way of saying that there’s dysfunction lower down, often hoof, and higher up, often shoulder. This tension then “meets” at the carpus which then tries to accommodate and compensate!

Common dysfunction of the fetlock

I love testing the mobility of the fetlock, more precisely the mobility of the sesamoid bones. I don’t know why, I think it’s just the little noises it makes that always make me happy when they’re moving well ^^

Dysfunction in the fetlock is a recurrent one in horses that find themselves in situations where they have to hyperextend the joint. If you’ve read the article where I describe the fetlock mechanism, you’ll know that I’m thinking of racers, but also show jumpers, and even often high level dressage. What happens there is that the area is maintained in a state of slight inflammation, and this brings change to the tissue with time, making the area more stiff and so prone to injuries!

I also often find dysfunction of a fetlock when a horse has had an issue in the other foreleg! The horse will carry more weight on the “issue free leg”, creating a whole new set of tension, and usually the fetlock is involved in the process of trying to cope with the shift in weight-bearing!

Common dysfunction in the phalange

Most of the time, dysfunction in the phalange comes with feet problems. Whether it’s from laminitis, navicular syndrome or other, the area will display tension and restriction. The most important joint being the coffin joint, it can be tricky to know which ligament is involved, but some technic do give an idea of pain and unbalance!



As you can see, there’s plenty of dysfunctions possible in the foreleg. Most of them will lead, with time, to serious pathologies like tendon injuries and navicular syndrome. Having your horse checked regularly by a practitioner helps prevent pathologies of the sort!

As usual, I’m here to answer any question so don’t hesitate to message me or comment bellow!

Louise x

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