Skip to Main Content
Ask About Financing

Equine Fracture Repair: Techniques for Optimal Healing

Equine Fracture Repair: Techniques for Optimal Healing

Treatment for broken bones in horses has come a long way with a variety of healing methods and rehabilitation to help get your horse moving comfortably again after injury. Today, our Versailles equine vets talk about equine fracture repair, the different types of fractures and how equine surgery can help.

Equine Fractures

Fractures and breaks are able to occur anywhere within a horse's body. Certain types of equine fractures are more common than other types, especially among athletic horses such as racehorses.

Some of the most common types of equine fractures include:

Incomplete Fracture

Incomplete fractures, also referred to as green stick, stress or microfracture, are when cracks form within the bone but the bones don't break apart. These equine fractures are typically caused by repeated stress on the bone usually from repeated exercise without providing adequate time for rest.

Complete Fracture

When a horse experiences a complete fracture the bones completely break apart. These fractures as usually the result of trauma or injury. If the fracture results in multiple pieces of bone, we refer to this as a comminuted fracture.

Compound Fracture

A compound fracture is when the bones not only completely break apart, but one or more pieces of bone come through the skin. A horse's skin is fairly thin and the broken edge of the bone can be sharp allowing it to pierce through the skin. Unfortunately, this type of break comes with the risk of infection and should be treated by a vet as soon as possible.

Chip Fracture

Occasionally horses may experience a break where a small piece of bone breaks off. These types of equine fractures most commonly occur in the fetlock, knee or hock joint. One of the common causes of chip fractures is bone development conditions that result in cysts and ultimately these chips.

Diagnosing Fractures in Horses

If you suspect that your horse has sustained a fracture, your vet will perform ambulatory imaging techniques to obtain a preliminary diagnosis. Once they've confirmed a fracture they will place a bandage with a splint or a cast before transporting your horse to the veterinary hospital for treatment. Once your horse is at the equine hospital, the veterinary surgeon will perform any necessary diagnostic imaging techniques to get a closer look at the fracture and its location and/or severity. Radiographs(X-rays) are the most common form of diagnostic imaging used for this. If more advanced imaging is needed, the vet may also use ultrasound, computed tomography (CT scans) or nuclear scintigraphy.

Nuclear scintigraphy, or bone scans, involve the injection of a radioactive compound into your horse. This will allow the equine surgeon to have a better look at areas in the body that have greater metabolic activity, such as the location of the fracture.

Methods of Equine Fracture Repair

We've come a long way with equine fracture repair. There are new techniques and tools that offer a better chance of having a positive prognosis for the injured horse.

Some of the common methods of treating fractures in horses include:

Internal Fixation: Using this method of equine fracture repair, the bones will be compressed and held together using any combination of p[lates, pins and screws. While these may be removed in some cases, they may also be left in place to provide ongoing support for the bone. Internal fixation is an invasive and generally expensive method of fracture repair, but there are benefits to this option. These types of repairs are more likely to heal quickly with fewer complications such as bony calluses. This type of treatment may also allow the horse to return to work or perform sooner than other methods.

External Fixation: With external fixation the bones are stabilized using pins placed both above and below the break all of which are then held in place using a cast. Because of the positioning of the pins, the break is protected from withstanding the full pressure of the horse's weight. While this method can be used in horses it is not the most common as it also requires the drilling of large holes into the bone for the pin placement.

Non-Invasive Treatment: Horses that experience clean, simple breaks may be able to recover with nothing more than a cast. While the cast itself is less expensive than surgical methods, the horse will require general anesthesia when the cast needs to be changed which can be quite costly. This cast will need to be changed regularly, at intervals depending on the horse's age. This method does not offer the same stable healing as surgical methods and there is no guarantee on how long healing may take.

Recovery For Horses After Fractures and Veterinary Fracture Repair

Recovery after equine fracture repair can take 4 to 6 weeks initially with rehabilitation taking another four to six months on average. The successful recovery after bone fractures in horses is determined not only by the appearance of bone fusion using diagnostic imaging but also by the return of mobility. In order to help ensure the best possible outcome, your horse will need rehabilitative therapy. Some of the therapies commonly used are:


Physio for horses aims to restore the mobility of the affected limb while reducing inflammation and increasing strength over time. The use of soft tissue techniques is also common to ensure that the soft tissues retain their motion and appearance.

Laser therapy

Laser therapy uses focused wavelengths of light at a specific frequency to help promote healing within the soft tissues. This can help improve blood flow, reduce inflammation and reduce pain. This therapy is non-invasive and can be comfortable for the horse as it causes the treatment area to feel warm.


Shockwave therapy uses high-energy sound impulses to penetrate the affected tissues and stimulate the cells where the bones and soft tissues meet. This can also reduce both inflammations and any pain that your horse is experiencing during recovery.


Acupuncture is the use of needles inserted into pressure points. This is commonly used as a natural method of pain relief for horses recovering from surgery or injuries. This therapy is performed by trained veterinary professionals and is most effective when combined with other therapeutic services.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding animals or professional advice regarding equine regulations. For the diagnosis of your animal's condition and help to navigate rules governing the care and transportation of equine animals, please make an appointment with your vet.

If you would like to learn more about fracture repair and other surgical services we offer, please get in touch with our equine vets at Bluegrass Equine Surgery

Contact Us To Get Started

Whether you are looking to get involved with our rapidly-growing practice, or are seeking equine veterinary care, Bluegrass Equine Surgery welcomes you to get in touch. 

Learn More

(859) 682-5225 Contact