The horse’s pastern runs from the fetlock to the top of the hoof. It is made up of the long pastern bone (proximal phalanx) and the short pastern bone (middle phalanx). These bones are held together by two sets of ligaments, which altogether form the pastern joint. Sometimes referred to as the digit joint, the pasterns can be likened to the two largest bones in the human finger.
This blog article outlines the role of the pasterns and how icing can help reduce inflammation in the soft tissues surrounding the pasterns.
The Role of The Horse’s Pasterns
Firstly, the pasterns help the lower leg cope with uneven ground. If, for example, the horse’s foot lands unexpectedly in a pothole or rut in the ground, the pastern joint allows the foot to twist slightly.
Furthermore, the pasterns are the first structures to absorb concussion after the foot. This means the pasterns absorb a huge amount of force every time the horse’s foot hits the ground. The amount of force absorbed by the pasterns increases with hard ground and fast or intense work.
Injuries to the Horse’s Pastern
Injuries to the pastern area – i.e. the bones themselves as well as the surrounding tendons and ligament – often result from excessive, repeated concussion. However, it is also possible for injury to occur as a result of overextension of the fetlock joint.
Hard ground causes more force to be transmitted through the hoof into the pasterns, which puts more strain on those structures. Fast work also increases the amount of force transmitted to the pasterns.
A horse’s conformation can also make a difference to the likelihood of pastern injury. A sloping pastern is generally better at absorbing concussion than an upright pastern. However, sloping pasterns are more likely to encounter soft tissue injuries.
Concussive force not only affects the pastern bones, it also causes heat to build up in the soft tissues. The tendon sheath that protects the DDFT is especially vulnerable to damage caused by excessive heat build up.
“Windpuffs” and Swelling in the Pastern Area
There are no muscles in the horse’s lower legs. Instead, long tendons run from the parent muscles above the knee or hock, right down into the fetlock joint. This makes the tendons in the lower leg more vulnerable to injury.
The deep digital flexor tendon is the main tendon in the digit joints. The DDFT helps to support the fetlock joint and prevent it from over-extending. As the DDFT runs over the joints, it is protected by a tendon sheath.
Swelling at the back of the fetlock joint, sometimes known as windpuffs, is caused by inflammation of the tendon sheaths. This condition, properly known as Digital Sheath Tenosynovitis, is often caused by trauma and hard exercise.
Icing the Horse’s Pasterns
If your horse’s pasterns fill or become puffy, try icing them in the first instance. Ice and compression reduce inflammation, which may help to reduce the filling in the pasterns. The Cryochaps Absolute Wrap is designed to fit pasterns and fetlocks, making it ideal for reducing inflammation in these areas.
Note: Always seek veterinary advice if you notice anything unusual about your horse’s legs. This article is not a substitute for veterinary care or advice.