Sprains may be classed as injuries; and a very common one is that of the ligaments or tendons of the fore-leg.
Tendons and ligaments are formed of strong fibres; and when some of these are unduly stretched and broken, inflammation sets in, and we have heat, pain, and more or less swelling, according to the severity of the injury. If pressure be applied to the swelling, the horse shows pain, but so he will if it arises from a blow or a kick; therefore, such swellings should not be too hastily called sprains; and the owner of the animal would do well to wait a day or two before coming to a decision. If the swelling arises from a blow, the pain will soon begin to disappear, and the enlargement to diminish. Sometimes the swelling "pits" on pressure of the fingers, and by this symptom an experienced veterinary surgeon can almost always give a correct opinion.
There is a ligament which arises from the back of the knee, and is inserted into the flexor tendon, called the "perforans," about half way between the knee and fetlock. This ligament, named the "metacarpal," is strong, and may be said to brace up the leg, and greatly help it to bear the violent strain it is continually sustaining during rapid progression. This metacarpal ligament is often sprained, and the symptoms are a painful swelling and lameness. There is also another painful ligament arising behind the lower part of the knee, called the "great suspensory ligament." It runs down behind the cannon bone, and just above the fetlock it bifurcates or divides into two branches, each of which is attached to the sesamoid bone on its own side, and then continues downwards and forwards until it reaches the front of the pastern, where it becomes attached to the expanded tendon of a muscle called the extensor of the foot. The suspensory ligament is liable to sprain, and the symptoms are swelling and lameness.
The treatment of these sprains varies. Of course, in all sprains it is essential to keep the affected limb as still and quiet as possible; and therefore owners of horses, who, in their impatience, take the animal out of his stable every two or three days to see how he is getting on, are acting very injudiciously. The treatment should begin by the application of cold water, by means of a loose linen bandage frequently wetted. This bandage should be removed altogether at night, because, the groom being then absent from the stable, it would soon become dry, and only irritate and heat the injured parts. It is not necessary to take the bandage off to wet it. The limb should be put into a bucketful of water, which ought then to be "slopped" on the bandage for a few seconds. If this be done frequently during the day by the groom while he is about the stable, the bandage will be kept sufficiently wet and cool. Some people prefer diligent fomentations for sprains, and there is much to be said in favour of their views. Whether fomentations or cold applications have been adopted, the swelling usually becomes gradually less inflamed, and the pain diminishes. After about a fortnight, it is generally necessary, unless the inflammation still continues, to consider the propriety of applying a strong blister to the part. When this has been done, it is advisable that it be not oiled, or have any greasy or emollient substance applied to it for at least three weeks, and that the crusts should on no account be washed off, or any part of the scurf removed. More haste is worse speed here; and for the blister to have fair play, its results should not be meddled with, at the least under three weeks. Sometimes, in sprains of the flexor tendons and ligaments of the leg, a high-heeled shoe is beneficially applied to take strain and pressure off the parts. It should not be forgotten that a horse thrown out of work and exercise for sprain and lameness, should have light diet. Bran-mashes should be given for the first few days instead of oats, and afterwards half bran-mash and half oats mixed should be allowed - of course, with the addition of hay or grass. If blistering for sprains is not successful, firing may be tried; and it often succeeds when all other remedies have failed.
The foregoing may be called the general principles of treatment for sprains, and they can be applied according to the varying circumstances of each particular case. There are sprains of the flexor tendons and ligaments of the hind-legs, as well as those of the fore; and also sprains of tendons and muscles in different parts of the body, which it is beyond the scope of this book to describe.