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Musculoskeletal: physical examination - adult



  • A thorough and systematic physical examination is important in all cases of lameness or poor performance.
  • Should include an evaluation of the horse's conformation, muscle development, symmetry and flexibility, as well as identification of areas of swelling, heat, pain on palpation or muscular tension Behavior: pain assessment.
  • Limbs should be palpated in the weight bearing and non-weight bearing positions.
  • Includes visual assessment, palpation and manipulative techniques.
  • For other age groups see  Foal: evaluation - neonate Musculoskeletal: physical examination - foal.
  • Can yield potentially important information, however a lack of findings does not preclude injury.


Print off the Owner factsheet on Exercise intolerance / poor performance testing, Lameness examinations to give to your clients.


  • Important information can be easily gained.
  • Non-invasive opportunity to examine horse at rest.
  • Minimal stress to animal.
  • Information can influence interpretation of gait, as well as influence the prognosis and treatment options of some pathology.


  • Localizing signs are not always present → false-negative results.
  • Clinical signs often occur at sites distant to the source of lameness and therefore can be misleading if misinterpreted → false-negative results.
  • Requires reasonably relaxed horse to permit evaluation of response to palpation.
  • Individual variation of response to palpation and manipulation.
  • Wide range of 'normal' conformation Musculoskeletal: conformation, the assessment of which will still largely be based on empirical rather than scientific evidence.
  • Manipulation of fracture sites may → further soft tissue injury, even convert closed fracture Musculoskeletal: fracture to open.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • James O, Payne R, Bathe A, Greet T & Wylie C (2016) Arthroscopy of the dorsal and plantar pouches of the tarsocrural joint for the treatment of osteochondritis dissecans in the horse: clinical features and follow‐up. Vet Surg 45 (8), 1049-1055 PubMed.
  • Barstow A & Dyson S (2015) Clinical features and diagnosis of sacroiliac joint region pain in 296 horses: 2004-2014. Equine Vet Educ 27 (12), 637-647 VetMedResource.
  • Parkes R, Newton R & Dyson S (2015) Is there an association between clinical features, response to diagnostic analgesia and radiological findings in horses with a magnetic resonance imaging diagnosis of navicular disease or other injuries of the podotrochlear apparatus? Vet J 204 (1), 40-46 PubMed.
  • Parker R (2015) Clinical features, diagnosis and management of fractures of the distal phalanx in horses. Livestock 20 (2), 107-110 VetMedResource.
  • Marneris D & Dyson S J (2014) Clinical features, diagnostic imaging findings and concurrent injuries in 71 sports horses with suspensory branch injuries. Equine Vet Educ 26 (6), 312-321 VetMedResource.
  • Holroyd K, Dixon J, Mair T, Bolas N, Bolt D M, David F & Weller R (2013) Variation in foot conformation in lame horses with different foot lesions. Vet J 195 (3), 361-365 PubMed.
  • Dyson S & Murray R (2011) Management of hindlimb proximal suspensory desmopathy by neurectomy of the deep branch of the lateral plantar nerve and plantar fasciotomy: 155 horses (2003-2008). Equine Vet J 44 (3), 361-367 PubMed.
  • Dyson S & Murray R (2003) Pain associated with the sacroiliac joint region: a clinical study of 74 horses. Equine Vet J 35 (3), 240-245 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Ross M W (2011) Observation: Symmetry and Posture. In: Diagnosis and Management of Lameness in the Horse. 2nd edn. Eds: Ross M W & Dyson S J. Elsevier Saunders, USA.
  • Ross M W & McIlwraith C W (2011) Conformation and Lameness. In: Diagnosis and Management of Lameness in the Horse. 2nd edn. Eds: Ross M W & Dyson S J. Elsevier Saunders, USA.
  • Ross M W (2011) Palpation. In: Diagnosis and Management of Lameness in the Horse. 2nd edn. Eds: Ross M W & Dyson S J. Elsevier Saunders, USA.

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Behavior: headshaking

Behavior: pain assessment

Behavior: separation distress

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Bone: osseous cyst-like lesions

Bone: osteitis - septic

Bone: osteochondrosis

Bone: scintigraphy

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Bursoscopy: overview

Canker: hypertrophic pododermatitis - chronic

Cardiovascular: aortoiliac thrombosis

Carpal joint: disease - overview

Carpus: fracture - chip

Carpus: hygroma

Carpus: intercarpal ligament (MPICL) - trauma

Carpus: osteochondroma

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Foal: evaluation - neonate

Foot / shoe: examination

Foot: contracted heels

Foot: heel - sheared

Foot: heel and hoof - avulsion injuries

Foot: hoof wall fracture

Foot: keratoma

Foot: laminitis

Foot: lateral cartilage calcification (sidebone)

Foot: lateral cartilage inflammation (quittor)

Foot: sole bruising

Foot: subsolar abscess/infection

Foot: thrush

Foot: trimming and balancing

Foot: underrun heels

Foot: white line disease

Forelimb: joint anesthesia

Forelimb: perineural analgesia

Forelimb: radiography

Head: fractures


Hindlimb: joint anesthesia

Hindlimb: perineural analgesia

Hindlimb: radiography

Hoof: seedy toe

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MCP/MTP joint: luxation

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Navicular bone: syndrome

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Neurology: examination - foal

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Palmar digital nerve: neurectomy

Patella: fracture

Patella: fragmentation

Patella: luxation

Patella: upward fixation

Pelvis: fracture

Pelvis: trauma - sacroiliac

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PIP joint: osteoarthritis

Pre-purchase examination (UK)

Pre-purchase examination (US)

Proximal phalanx: fracture

Proximal sesamoid: fracture

Proximal sesamoid: sesamoiditis

Radius: fracture

Sacrum: fracture

Scapula: fracture

SDFT: luxation

SDFT: tendinitis

Shoulder joint: disease - overview

Spine: cervical vertebral malformation (CVM)

Spine: coccygeal - trauma

Spine: deformity

Spine: fracture

Spine: osteomyelitis

Spine: spinous processes - overriding

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Stifle joint: disease - overview

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Stifle: trauma - collateral ligament

Stifle: trauma - cruciate ligament

Stifle: trauma - meniscal

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Suprascapular nerve: paralysis

Suspensory ligament: desmitis - midbody

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Tibia: fracture - diaphyseal

Tibia: fracture - malleolar

Tibia: fracture - physeal

Tibia: fracture - tibial crest


Ulna: fracture

Ultrasonography: bone / joints

Ultrasonography: flexor tendon

Ultrasonography: musculoskeletal

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