Guide to the Deep Digital Flexor Tendon

Posted on December 6, 2022 by Categories: Cryochaps
Exoskeleton tendon boots by Cryochaps

The deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT) runs along the back of the leg, beneath the superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT). The main job of the DDFT is to help flex the leg and stabilise the joints whilst they are weight-bearing. Meanwhile, the SDFT provides most of the spring-like, energy conserving function. The DDFT originates with the deep digital flexor muscle, and ends in the coffin bone.

Anatomy of the Deep Digital Flexor Tendon

The deep digital flexor tendon can be around 50cm long in an adult horse. It runs from the deep digital flexor muscle (behind the carpus/knee or hock), via the cannon bone, fetlock, pasterns and into the coffin bone. 

The DDFT runs over several joints in the lower leg, where it is encased by a tendon sheath (bursae). These tendon sheaths contain synovial fluid, which helps the DDFT to run over the joints without friction.

As the horse bears its weight on the leg, the DDFT stretches taught, helping to support the joints. 

Deep Digital Flexor Tendon Injuries

Injuries to the deep digital flexor tendon tend to occur in the forelimbs, either within the hoof capsule or behind the fetlock or pastern. 

DDFT injuries are often found in the areas covered by a tendon sheath. Treating tendon sheath injuries can be particularly difficult due to the structure of the tendon in these areas affecting the healing process.

DDFT injuries can occur in any horse. However, horses that are jumping or working at speed may be more prone to DDFT injury. 

Poor conformation or shoeing can also contribute to DDFT injury. 

Prognosis for injuries to the deep digital flexor tendon vary. Even once the tendon has healed, re-injury is common and the horse may not be able to perform to the level it did before the injury. 

Symptoms of DDFT Injury

Lameness, heat and / or swelling can all indicate a problem with the deep digital flexor tendon. Specifically, asymmetric windgalls can indicate a problem with the tendon sheath. 

As with many injuries to the leg, symptoms may vary in their severity and you should always contact your vet. Suspected injuries to the DDFT can be serious and should never be ignored. 

Rehabilitating a horse from a DDFT injury can be a long process that should never be rushed. Rest, rehabilitation, corrective shoeing and various veterinary treatments and / or surgery may be recommended depending on the individual circumstances. 

Cryochaps Equine Ice Boots

Whilst injuries cannot be prevented entirely, we can take steps to protect our horses’ legs and give them the best care possible. Our equine ice boots are designed to deliver effective cooling and compression to the soft tissues in the lower leg after exercise or injury. After exercise, icing can help kickstart the repair and recovery process. In the event of an injury, icing as part of initial first aid can help reduce pain and inflammation until your vet arrives. 

Shop Cryochaps equine ice boots