Stifle Injury in Horse: Symptoms, Risks and Treatment

Strict braking, rapid direction changes, trauma, continual strain, and overuse may all lead to stifle injury in horses.

Horses suffering via stifle injury may exhibit shorter strides and dislike labor. It’s also more complicated than the hock joint and more common in performance horses. Changes in direction, abrupt braking, trauma, repeated stress, and excessive usage may all lead to stifling injuries. Most in danger are horses that participate in barrel racing and jump.

Preventing overwork while encouraging general joint health in horses remains the first step toward preventing stifle limp and other problems. It’s essential to avoid too heavy loads on the horse and to watch out for signs of abuse. Injuries, lameness, and other illnesses may impair the stifle joint, which is essential for the body to function correctly.

This section covers the design of the stifle joint, the distinctions between the knees of horses and humans, the many forms of stifle issues, symptoms that they have, causes, risk factors, diagnosis, therapy, and avoidance. A healthy diet, exercise, vitamins, and nutrition help lower the chance of severe injury. Vets have become much better equipped to identify and treat stifle lameness because of developments in imaging technology.

A horse’s stifle—where remains it?

Stifle Joint

Horses have a joint in their rear legs called a stifle, comparable to a human knee—the joint’s duty is for the hind legs to bend and extend precisely what our knees do. Stifle joints, crucial in a horse’s body, do not first seem jointed because of their concealed place inside the anatomy of the animal’s hind legs. The point where the tibia and femur bones of a horse connect is where the stifle lies.

The stifle joint becomes highly intricate. A complicated system of muscles, two collateral tendons, and soft tissues encircles the stifle of a horse. It has a lot of detail within the hip joint, with two joint cavities held in place by two tensile ligaments. In addition, hydrating the joint are the joint capsule and each patellar ligament. Fourteen ligaments support the joint in total.

What’s the purpose of a horse’s stifle?

When a horse rushes across a field or jumps over a fence, their stifle joint drives them forward. The stifle joint is essential for a horse’s ability to advance because it causes the hind legs to be on throughout a stride. A thin shell providing tension absorption and lubrication covers the stifle joint.

Horse stifles, often referred to as their “stay apparatus,” allow horses to move about and also aid them to stand.  When a person remains still, their legs and knees sit vertically straight to the ground, but the stifle joint of a horse is diagonal at the exact moment. It represents a few main differences between a human’s knee and a horse’s. The stifle locking into stance gives a horse the capacity to rest while walking.

Given its complex development, it isn’t surprising that stifle joint injuries and lameness happen often, especially in active horses.  Image from the blog for horse stifle injuries. Picture of a swift horse, which increases the chance of stifling wounds.

Horses’ stifle injuries


All stifle injuries in equines have results of either chronic joint strain or severe injury, often brought on by rapid braking or direction changes. Rarely, a horse’s growth spurt may result in a stifle injury.

Cows under constant stress. As with many other joints, the stifle can result in equine arthritis directly after an injury and is prone to the condition in and of itself. Stifle joint osteoarthritis occurs as a degenerative ailment that usually affects elderly horses. It may develop over time.

After a fracture or dislocation, the stifle joint may sustain further damage. Since the stifle has a high-motion joint, injuries from swift motions and other high-speed activities frequently coincide with this joint. For this reason, 3-day eventing, showjumping, and rifle racing often use sports ponies. Nevertheless, stifle issues may affect horses of any age.

Symptoms of suffocating injuries

Your horse may exhibit apathy in the rear end and one or more of these symptoms if they demonstrate signs of a stifle injury:

  • Inflammation and edema around the stifle region
  • dragging their toes around
  • Not able to trot
  • unable to retreat or go backward
  • a shorter stride distance
  • Problems climbing or descending hills

Stifle development problems are usually due to a congenital disability and may cause pain and swelling of the stifles from a young age. Growing issues are often sporadic, worse during exercise, and less severe during periods of low activity. These developmental problems may include osteochondritis dissecans, patterer laxation, and cartilage cysts.

Stifling horses with a lock

Stifling horses with a lock

“Locked stifle” represents an often-mentioned sign of a horse’s stifle. As the name implies, this ailment occurs when the horse’s stifle gets stuck in place, keeping it from moving out of the ridge on the end of the femur. Because of this, the horse cannot bend its arm; the portion remains extended, and the horse drags its toe. Upward Fixing of the Patella is the clinical term for it (UFP).

Although the exact etiology of locking stifles seems unidentified, it comes from conformation problems in some horses. Younger horses that develop fast or have poor body conditions are especially susceptible to this condition, which impairs the medial ligament’s ability to function correctly and causes locked stifles.

It is easy to see a horse with locked stifles, and although it could prove worrying, the disease is seldom painful. But there will be a hint of lameness about it. The horse’s strides will probably become shorter. Occasionally, there may be a little click known as “clicking stifles.”

Your horse must get their stifles checked by your veterinarian if it may have locked up. Utilizing X-rays to rule out other stifle-related conditions, including fractures, foot abscesses, or stringhalt, usually represents the first step of identifying the precise reason. 

Risk variables for blunt injuries

Many factors, such as trauma, overuse, and abrupt direction changes, may stifle issues in horses. In addition, some sports like leaping and barrel racing may make these injuries more likely. Such damages are prevalent in horses that compete in barrel racing, 3-day eventing, and showjumping. All horses, however, regardless of age, are prone to stifle injury.

Sports with fast speeds, sudden direction shifts, and sudden stops are more prone to cause stifle injuries. Horses with stiff hind limbs and low-heeled, long-toed hooves are inclined to hide problems. Stifle injuries in horses may occur from jumping, barrel racing, and other sports that entail abrupt stops, rapid direction adjustments, or fast speeds.

Recognizing Stifle Damage

Recognizing Stifle Damage

Ensuring the most beneficial approach and limiting future damage need an accurate diagnosis of stifle injury in horses. A close look should be the first step in evaluating a possible stifle injury. Stifle injury treatment usually includes measuring edema, doing flexibility tests, obstructing joints, and using imaging methods like ultrasound and X-rays. Regarding stifling injuries, a sonogram may reveal any ligament or muscle injury, and an X-ray can tell whether there are any fractures, bone cysts, or arthritis.

An essential first step in correctly evaluating stifle damage was the use of imaging technology. Finding flaws in the stifle joint may avert future harm and enable the creation of the best treatment strategy. Recognize that using imaging tools to assess clinical symptoms and flexion test findings becomes crucial for making an accurate diagnosis.


Strict braking, rapid direction changes, trauma, continual strain, and overuse may all lead to stifling injuries in horses, becoming particularly frequent in performance horses. The most vulnerable horses include those who compete in gun racing and jumping. Like a human knee, the stifle joint serves as crucial for the rear legs of horses to flex and lengthen. Horses can move and stand because of a sophisticated network of muscles, tendons, and soft tissues. Often brought on by abrupt braking or direction changes, stifle injuries may cause significant damage or persistent joint strain. Osteochondritis dissecans, patterer laxation, and cartilage cysts are buried development issues that can cause discomfort and swelling in the stifles at a young age.

A horse with locked stifles represents a case in which the stifle becomes lodged and cannot escape the femur ridge. Younger horses with poor health or horses that mature quickly are more likely to have this problem. Shorter strides, lameness, and clicking stifles are all possible symptoms of locked stifles in horses. Sports like showjumping or barrel racing may raise the risk, as can trauma, misuse, and sudden direction changes. Treating an accurate diagnosis was essential.

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