Contusions occur quite often in horses and generally speaking do not cause overwhelming concern. Bruises, swollen elbows, capped hocks or lumps, and other kinds of reactions to commonly suffered trauma are frequently observed by horse owners.
The injury suffered by the animal may be caused by a myriad of everyday events such as kicking in enclosed areas or simply the act of lying down. For example, if you are transporting your animal in an enclosed trailer and the horse kicks against the wall of the trailer, the chance of capping a hock is high. If this is a rather frequent situation the animal may actually experience a problem with swollen hocks more often than not. Conversely, when the horse lies down and its leg is located underneath the rump, the animals elbows that is usually protected by the musculature and chest suddenly comes into close contact with the horse's shoed hoof. Depending on the kind of shoeing you have put on the animal, the elbow will be subjected by pressure from that extremity and depending on the speed with which the horse may move when lying down, the injury to the sensitive elbow may be severe. You may have heard this condition referred to as "shoe boil".
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These contusions are now more frequently referred to as hygromas. Behind this veterinary term is the frequently observed damage of the synovial bursa which is located underneath the skin of the hock and elbow and which serves to prevent undue pressure to the tendons caused repetitive movement. Injury to the bursa results in an increase in fluid within this sac and swelling is observable. While the simple swelling will eventually go down, a puncture wound to the bursa will frequently result in serious infection which decreases the odds of a speedy recovery and instead will present several difficulties to recovery.
Horse owners will need to be diligent in watching for contusions. They will present in the beginning as hot spots or areas on the horses body which are tender to the touch. Frequently this is accompanied by temporary lameness. When you first notice such hygromas, the first course of treatment is the elimination of the known causes of the trauma followed by cold hydrotherapy. Resting the horse will permit the swelling to go down. After the pain has been stopped and the contusion is cool to the touch, you may wish to treat it with DMSO and also with steroid injections directly into the affected bursa to dramatically reduce the swelling of the sac.
As is always the case, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Therefore, if you are planning on transporting your horse by enclosed trailer, be sure to use padded leg wraps. Review your horse's shoeing to ensure that it is proper and also use pastern roll guards to eliminate or greatly diminish the occurrence of elbow injuries. If the damage to the elbow has already happened, you will be able to reduce the odds of re-injury by shoeing your horse with specialized shoes that differ from common ones by having the heel removed.