Low-field standing magnetic resonance imaging findings of the metacarpo/metatarsophalangeal joint of racing Thoroughbreds with lameness localised to the region: A retrospective study of 131 horses

Equine Veterinary Journal
March 2012

Reasons for performing study: The metacarpo/metatarsophalangeal (MCP/MTP) joint is a common site of lameness in the Thoroughbred racehorse. Radiographs may fail to show pathology consistent with the degree of lameness. With a high incidence of stress fractures occurring in the distal third metacarpal/metatarsal (MC3/MT3) condyles and proximal phalanx, a definitive diagnosis as to the nature of the pathology is essential.

Objective: To describe the low-field magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) findings in Thoroughbred racehorses with MCP/MTP joint pain scanned under standing sedation.

Methods: The MR images and clinical records of all Thoroughbred racehorses undergoing MRI of the MCP/MTP joint between October 2006 and August 2010 were reviewed. A total of 168 joints from 131 horses were selected for inclusion. The MRI finding considered most significant in the lame (or lamest) limb was noted.

Results: Diagnostic quality images were obtainable in 97.8% of horses. The most common finding was palmar/plantar osteochondral disease in MC3/MT3 (54.9% of horses). Incomplete condylar fracture was diagnosed in 19.8% of horses, with the lateral condyle predominating. An incomplete sagittal fracure of P1 was diagnosed in 14.5% of horses and 11.4% were diagnosed with ‘dorsal joint disease’. Other findings included transverse MC3 stress fractures (1.5%), soft tissue injuries (12.2%) and proximal phalangeal ‘contusions’ (3.8%). No significant bone/soft tissue injury was detected in 5.4% of cases.

Conclusions: Standing MRI can detect a spectrum of disease within the MCP/MTP joints of racehorses. The procedure is well tolerated and may lead to a definitive diagnosis where radiographic imaging is inconclusive.

Potential relevance: A total of 35.8% of cases had MRI findings consistent with fracture pathology, which could not be confirmed radiographically at the time of the MRI examination. This has important therapeutic and prognostic implications and may help to prevent catastrophic injury.

Large animal: