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How Thermography Can Help With Injury Detection?

Naturally, horses hide their pain. This is because horses are prey animals who do not want to show that they are hurt, as the vulnerability can put them into serious danger in the wild. For this reason, horse owners should be on a constant lookout for potential signs of injury, many of which are hidden away, especially since the horse cannot tell us what hurts. This is where thermography can come in handy, as it is a tool which allows for us to take a deeper look into our horses’ injuries.

Thermography requires no contact with the horse, just a good shot and a good eye. A thermal camera is used in order to identify the tiniest changes in temperature of the skin using electronic sensors which capture heat emitted through infrared radiation (House). The sensors create an image with a variety of different colors representing intensity of the heat (radiation). The temperature of the horse’s body is warmer than what we can feel on the surface. When a horse is injured, inflammatory mediators are triggered which leads to more porous blood vessels thus increasing blood flow in the body. Heat will increase in the innermost (subcutaneous) layer of the skin, which in turn increases the temperature of the skin. The differences in temperature (infrared radiation emission) thus show areas of injury and secondary pain (caused by primary injury/disease that may have been missed/mistreated). Besides identifying the problem and coming up with a treatment plan, thermography is also useful for the recovery period, as it can show whether the treatment is working or not.

In a healthy creature, a thermograph will show symmetry in colors. This is due to the fact that the blood flow in the skin is regulated by the sympathetic nervous system. Therefore, in a horse that is in good condition, the warmest area of the legs should be located on the coronary band. Thermography can help find issues such as navicular syndrome, laminitis, abscesses and corns. In addition, this form of diagnosis can help us gain invaluable insight about hoof balance and weight-bearing ability. Improper balance of the hoof can lead to lameness in the foot and beyond due to the fact that the horse will be compensating by balancing on other parts of its body. Beyond the legs, a thermograph can help pinpoint back problems such as kissing spine, sacroiliac joint damage, misalignment of vertebrae, muscle atrophy or muscle inflammation. Nerve injuries can also be identified with a thermograph. These can result from trauma or secondary injury/disease and can directly impact the horse’s blood flow. Issues with bone tissues (osseous pathology) can also be identified using this method. For instance, stress fractures in the third metacarpus and tibia can be found with thermography. These types of issues often result in a slight lameness, and if not identified early enough, can prove to be disastrous if the horse continues to be worked.

It is impossible to argue with the convenience and power of thermography. Besides giving visual assistance in location of heat, inflammation, tissue tone, cold, decreased circulation of blood, and impacted nerve functions, it has also been proven to show injuries and inflammation (especially injuries in the tendons and inflammation in the muscles) more than two weeks before symptoms arise (Pascoe). The camera is also conveniently portable, making it unbeatable for many diagnostic processes as the horse can be examined in its own stall. It has many diverse uses such as vet assessments (pre-purchase exams) and even assessment of saddle fit.

Thermography is done by scanning the entire horse in order to prevent confusion between primary and secondary problems. It is important to consider that inflamed muscles in one area could mean that they are compensating for pain/injury in another region of the horse’s body (House). In addition, this tool should be used as a complement to the examination rather than a primary tool as various factors can end up impacting surface heat patterns. These factors include where the horse was for the past hour, whether or not the horse had its leg wrapped, etc. Thermography should also be done in a place with controlled wind and temperature in order to avoid errors.

Thermography can be an extremely useful tool in diagnosing and even preventing problems with your horse. The trick is to do it right by choosing a professional qualified in their field in order to prevent limitations from bringing errors into the results. The true beauty of this tool is that it is non-invasive and gives you the chance of seeing your horse’s problems (or potential problems) without having to commute anywhere and splurge on extra costs. It also gives you the chance to look at how your horse is recovering from injury, which can save you loads of time and money.

At Perfect Stride, we are the first certified equine thermography technician via Equitherm located in Singapore. Drop us a message to book a thermography appointment today.

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