Swollen Joints in Horses


In horses, swollen joints, or synovitis, is a common inflammatory condition that can cause pain and lameness. It is a common cause of lameness in equine athletes, such as racehorses, dressage horses, and show jumpers. Various conditions, including traumatic injury, infection, and metabolic disease, can cause synovitis. Treatment for swollen joints in horses depends on the underlying cause and may include anti-inflammatory medications, joint injections, and rest.

Causes of Swollen Joints

Traumatic Injury

A traumatic injury is one of the most common causes of synovitis in horses. This can include a direct blow to the joint, such as a kick from another horse, or a repetitive strain injury from intense exercise. Traumatic injuries can cause the joint capsule to become inflamed and swollen, leading to synovitis.


Infection is another potential cause of swollen joints in horses. Bacterial and viral infections can cause inflammation of the joint capsule and surrounding tissue. The infection may be difficult to identify in some cases, as it may be located deep within the joint.

Metabolic Disease

Metabolic diseases, such as Cushing’s disease, can also cause synovitis in horses. When the horse’s body cannot properly regulate hormones, it can lead to inflammation of the joint capsule.

Symptoms of Swollen Joints

The most common symptom of synovitis in horses is swelling and pain in the affected joint. The horse may also show lameness, as the joint may be too painful to bear weight. In some cases, the affected area may have a visible lump or bulge.

Diagnosis of Swollen Joints

If your horse exhibits synovitis, your veterinarian may suggest various diagnostic tests to determine the cause. These tests may include a physical examination, radiographs, blood tests, and ultrasound. Depending on the results of these tests, your veterinarian may also recommend further tests, such as a joint tap or a biopsy.

Treatment of Swollen Joints

The treatment for swollen joints in horses depends on the underlying cause. In some cases, anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed to reduce pain and inflammation. Joint injections, such as corticosteroids or hyaluronic acid, may also be recommended to reduce inflammation and improve joint function. Rest may also be recommended to allow the joint to heal. In some instances, an operation may be needed to fix the joint.


In addition to treatment, several steps can be taken to prevent swollen joints in horses. Regular exercise is important for maintaining joint health and flexibility and reducing the risk of injury. Proper nutrition is also important for keeping the joints healthy. Providing horses with a balanced diet and adequate supplementation can help to reduce the risk of synovitis. It is also important to ensure that horses have access to a clean and dry environment, as moist and dirty environments can increase the risk of infection. Additionally, regular hoof care and trimming can help to reduce the risk of injury and infection.

Finally, it is important to monitor horses for any signs of synovitis. For example, suppose a horse shows signs of lameness or swelling in a joint. A veterinarian must evaluate the animal immediately to identify the initial problem and begin treatment.


Various conditions, including traumatic injury, infection, and metabolic disease, can cause swollen joints in horses. Diagnosis of the condition involves a variety of tests, including physical examination, radiographs, and ultrasound. The management of synovitis depends on the root cause and can involve anti-inflammatory drugs, joint injections, and rest. Surgery may also be necessary in some cases.

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