Reasons for performing the study: Larger superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT) injuries have a poorer prognosis than smaller lesions. During the inflammatory phase enlargement of the initial lesion is frequently noted, with biomechanical loading being recently proposed to play an important role.
Objectives: To evaluate the effect of lower limb cast immobilisation on tendon lesion propagation in an equine model of surgically induced SDFT injury.
Methods: Core lesions were surgically induced in both front SDFTs of 6 young mature horses. At the end of surgery, one leg was randomly placed in a lower limb cast and the other leg (control) was bandaged for 10 days. Computerised ultrasonographic tissue characterisation performed at Days 10, 15, 21, 28, 35 and 42 allowed measurement of lesion length (cm) and width (expressed as a percentage of whole tendon cross-section). On Day 42 horses were subjected to euthanasia and both SDFTs were sectioned every centimetre to assess the lesion length macroscopically. Statistics were performed to compare cast vs. control legs with significance set at P<0.05.
Results: When all time points were combined, lesion length was 19% shorter (P<0.0001) and lesion width 57% smaller (P = 0.0002) in the cast legs (6.13 ± 0.12 cm; 6.90 ± 0.64%) than in the control legs (7.30 ± 0.21 cm; 10.85 ± 1.22%). On Day 42 the lesion length on macroscopic evaluation was 19% shorter (P = 0.04) in the cast (7.00 ± 0.36 cm) than in the control legs (8.33 ± 0.33 cm).
Conclusions: Cast immobilisation for 10 days effectively reduced lesion propagation (length and width) compared to bandaging in an in vivo model of artificially-induced tendon lesions.
Potential relevance: A short period of cast immobilisation during the early phase of tendon healing may be an easy and cost-effective way to reduce the initial enlargement of lesion size and hence to improve prognosis.