Arthroscopic surgery has become a commonly used technology in dealing with joint problems in the horse. Arthroscopic surgery enables a complete visual evaluation of the internal structures of a joint in the horse, as well as surgical correction of solvable problems with minimal invasiveness. However, this technology should not be considered a “cure all” for every horse joint malady.
The procedure is minimally invasive because there is no large incision necessary in getting access to the inside of a joint. The camera used to visualize the joint is about the size of a No. 2 lead pencil. The instruments used to correct problems, such as removal of a bone chip, also only need a stab incision to access the problem.
Therefore, structures such as the shin and joint capsule heal quickly with minimal scarring. One does not have the threat of a large incision line coming apart or getting infected post-surgically.
The limitations that should be kept in mind are that sometimes nothing can be done through arthroscopy to reverse severe degenerative joint disease. If the articular cartilage is wearing out and becoming frayed and thin, there isn’t much that can be done about it. The classic indication for this approach is the removal of a bone chip from a joint that is causing a problem.
Removal of the bone chip and cleaning the edges of the lesions can be quite therapeutic for the horse. However, one should not overlook the fact that most, if not all, bone chips in joints are the result of a chronic problem that’s been building for some time.
The situation can be like throwing a brick through a window. Just because you remove the brick doesn’t mean the window isn’t still broken. In some cases, only after evaluating the situation via arthroscopy can the total evaluation be complete.
Another factor that comes into play with this procedure is the cost. The facilities, instrumentation, training and supporting personnel necessary to perform this type of surgery are quite costly. Each case is different, so consultation with a specialist you may be referred to is indicated before making a decision if this approach is the best option for your horse.