Stifle Injuries in Horses: Causes, Treatment & Prevention

Stifle Injuries in Horses: Causes, Treatment & Prevention

Horses’ stifle Injuries is crucial to their body’s correct operation and is quickly impacted by a wide range of wounds, lameness, and other conditions. 

Stifle Injuries in Horses: Causes, Treatment & Prevention

The stifle joint goes over the distinctions between the stifles of horses and human knees and the various types of stifle problems, symptoms, causes, risk factors, diagnosis, therapy, and prevention of injuries. We’ll examine the role of food, supplements that can help with joint health, and strategies to lower the chance of stifling injury, such as exercising and eating a healthy diet. We will discuss the ramifications of hiding injuries in equines, including possible outcomes and comprehending the factors that affect the equine’s recuperation.


The largest joint in the body, the stifle joint in horses, flexes and extends the rear leg. An intricate network of ligaments and muscles provides joint stability and mobility. The femur, tibia, patella, menisci, and ligaments—including the medial patellar ligament, collateral ligaments, and the three patellar ligaments—compose the stifle joint. The menisci and ligaments give stability and lessen friction during movement, while the femur, tibia, and patella create the articulation of the stifle.

The stifle joint is crucial for sustaining the horse’s weight and absorbing shock. The ligaments help to hold the joint in place while the menisci equally distribute weight throughout the joint. The front and back cruciate ligaments (ACL and PCL) provide joint stability, while the stay mechanism uses the stifle joint to provide support when the horse is standing. The stifle joint facilitates smooth joint flexion in addition to bearing the horse’s weight. It has led to increased attention on equine stifles since new advancements in imaging technology have made it possible to diagnose and treat stifle-related problems more accurately.

Stifle Injuries in Horses: Causes, Treatment & Prevention

What is the function of a horse’s stifle?

When a horse is rushing over a field or jumping over a fence, their stifle joint moves them forward. The stifle joint is essential to your horse’s ability to move because it pulls your horse’s hind legs forward when it steps forward. A thin capsule that lubricates the joint and offers some stress absorption surrounds the stifle joint.

A horse stifle, often known as their “stay apparatus,” supports the horse when it stands and facilitates movement. One significant distinction between a human’s knee and a horse’s stifle is that, while a human stands motionless, their legs and knees are positioned vertically straight to the ground. In contrast, a horse’s stifle joint is inclined. A horse’s stifle will lock into position, enabling it to rest while upright. Given its complex construction, it is not surprising that stifle joint injuries and lameness can occur often, especially in active horses.  

Types of Stifle Disorders

It is not random that there is a significant range to stifle lameness with a complicated joint. 

For example, young horses often suffer from intermittent upward fixation of the patella.

  •  The terms “sticky stifles” or “catchy stifles” are occasionally used to describe the illness. It is a genetic condition in certain breeds of ponies.
  • The horse may stand while sleeping because of the locking joint in the stifle. That’s how things work. A sticky stifle indicates that this mechanism holds the leg in place.
  • Regular exercise can often significantly enhance the tone of the muscles and ligaments to prevent the itchiness that results from the patella’s upward fixation.

Stifle Lameness Symptoms and Indications

Stifle lameness usually manifests itself initially in subtle ways. When taken out of their stalls, horses may appear strange initially, but they improve with continued use. The issue might worsen if muscle and ligament tone loss follow an extended period of stall rest.

Stifle Injuries in Horses: Causes, Treatment & Prevention

A stifling condition may show early signs of reluctance to work. Other indications that a horse’s stifle is weak are:

  • Pulling out the toe
  • resistance at canter
  • jerky canter
  • Having trouble backing up
  • shortened walk
  • Problems with hillsides and valleys
  • swerving over fences to one side

Difficulties are changing from the trot to the canter and vice versa. Back pain or croup are common accompanying symptoms of stifle lameness. You can have a stifle issue if your horse acts sensitively while riding or while these areas get groomed. Finding the underlying reason for minor stifle weakness or lameness typically requires a process of elimination because it can be challenging to diagnose, mainly if the stifle isn’t bloated.

.Some horses’ stifles may make clicking noises. Though worrisome, the noise may not indicate a severe medical issue. On the other hand, the clicking may indicate a rupture of the joint’s ligaments or cartilage. The horse becomes very lame in such situations.

Causes of Stifle Lameness

Stifle lameness can result from various causes, as the stifle is a complicated joint. Among the most typical are:

Arthritis: As the horse ages, the stifle is susceptible to arthritis, like other joints. Stifle arthritis frequently develops as a result of a chronic injury.

Bone cysts under cartilage: Although the cause is not always evident, large cysts can form in the stifle and fetlock. Trauma and other disorders of the bone or cartilage, such as osteochondritis dissecans, may also be relevant.

Meniscal tears: One of the most frequent causes of stifle lameness, a meniscal tear can induce low-grade lameness or, in more extreme cases, a severe condition. 

Osteochondrosis: These lesions typically appear in the first six months of a foal’s life. Lameness may only show symptoms once the animal starts working. 

Stifle trauma: Any horse can step in a hole, get kicked, or slip in the mud, but animals utilized for specific disciplines or with different conformation difficulties are more likely to experience stifle lameness.

Stifle injuries in horses.

Most stifle injuries in horses occur due to either recurrent stress on the joint or from a traumatic injury that is frequently connected to abrupt changes in direction or rapid deceleration. Rarely, developmental problems might result in a stifle injury in a horse.

Continuous strain on the equines Like many other joints, the stifle can develop equine arthritis directly from an injury and is prone to the condition in and of itself. Stifle joint osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that usually affects elderly horses. It can develop gradually over time.

A fracture or dislocation of the joint may result in an injury to the stifle joint. As a high-motion joint, the stifle may become hurt in horses during high-speed activities like jumping and sudden twists. Because of this, sports horses usually appear in 3-day eventing, barrel racing, and showjumping; nevertheless, stifle problems can affect horses of any age.

Treatment Stifle injuries

To combat inflammation, horses with mild stifle lameness may benefit from rest, NSAID medication, hyaluronic acid injections, and a corticosteroid. The veterinarian will review a schedule for returning to work following the recuperation phase, emphasizing conditioning building.


Affected individuals with previously ruled-out tissue anomalies are candidates for arthroscopic surgery. It is a helpful, minimally invasive procedure that can serve as therapy and diagnosis.


Although less common now, this procedure, which involves severing the medial patellar ligament, remains possible if more conservative measures fail to help the horse.

Adaptive footwear

Corrective shoeing can completely resolve to stifle locking issues in particular horses. The farrier may cut the inside wall or use a lateral heel wedge to promote hoof rotation. 


This hormone, estradiol cypionate, goes into the stifle to raise ligament tension, precisely the tone of the distal patellar ligament.

The antagonist of the interleukin-1 receptor protein (IRAP)

This natural anti-inflammatory is put into the hurt joint and is made from horse blood.

Plasma high in platelets [PRP]

PRP accelerates the healing of soft tissue injuries. Using a centrifuge, the PRP becomes separated from the horse’s blood.

After that, the horse receives an injection under ultrasound supervision. The fact that the horse’s blood seems utilized in PRP therapy eliminates the possibility of an allergic reaction.

Supplements for horses’ stifle injuries

By controlling their supplement intake, you can increase your horse’s chances of avoiding a stifle injury or healing from one already existing. Many vitamins are available specifically as joint supplements for horseback riders. Many of these supplements contain chondroitin, which helps limit further cartilage degradation; hyaluronic acid, which helps lubricate joints; glucosamine, which works to rebuild cartilage; and MSM, which helps relieve pain and inflammation.

Together with other complementary therapies, equine joint supplements often contain omega-3.


Stifle injuries in horses are a significant concern due to their complex structure and function. The stifle joint, the largest joint in the body, flexes and extends the rear leg, providing stability and mobility. Horses’ stifles, also known as their “stay apparatus,” support the horse when it stands and facilitate movement. Stifle disorders can occur in various types, such as intermittent upward fixation of the patella, sticky stifles, or catchy stifles. Symptoms include reluctance to work, pulling out the toe, resistance at canter, jerky canter, difficulty backing up, shortened walk, problems with hillsides and valleys, and swerving over fences to one side. Treatment and prevention strategies include exercise, a healthy diet, and a proper diet.

Stifle lameness in horses can be caused by various factors, including arthritis, bone cysts, meniscal tears, osteochondrosis, and trauma. Most stifle injuries occur due to recurrent stress or traumatic injury, with chronic strain on the equine joint being more common. Treatment options include rest, NSAID medication, hyaluronic acid injections, and corticosteroids. Arthroscopy, desmotory, adaptive footwear, hormones, IRAP, and PRP therapy can also help. Supplements like chondroitin, hyaluronic acid, glucosamine, and MSM can help reduce inflammation and prevent stifle injuries in horses.



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