Sensor Technology Enhances Relationship Between Lameness and Back Problems

Sensor Technology Enhances Relationship Between Lameness and Back Problems in Horses

Sensor technology is allowing experts from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and Animal Health Trust to enhance their understanding of the relationship between lameness and back problems in horses.

It has long been acknowledged that horses with lameness often also present back problems, and horses diagnosed with back problems also show limb related lameness. The interaction between the two is bio-mechanically complex, and how lameness may lead to back problems or how back problems may create lameness is comparatively poorly understood.

In recent years, considerable progress has been made in the detection of lameness, in particular with the advent of sensor-based gait analysis that can now be conducted effortlessly in conjunction with the clinical veterinary lameness exam.

Now, multi-sensor inertial sensor systems are allowing experts to quantify back movement parameters as well as the ‘traditional’ lameness parameters. This enables them – without the need for a dedicated and expensive gait laboratory – to construct the most precise analysis yet of the interactions between different anatomical parts in lame horses, ranging from almost imperceptible asymmetries to extreme limps. Crucially, inertial sensors are small, lightweight and easily attached to the horse meaning that assessments of back movement can also be conducted in clinical cases, allowing us to study the effect of changes in movement asymmetry (lameness) on back movement.


In a new study using these multi-sensor inertial sensor systems, thirteen horses with hind limb lameness were trotted in straight lines and lunged on a 10m diameter circle on left and right reins, before and after lameness was substantially improved by diagnostic analgesia (induced numbness to eliminate pain). Data on gait asymmetry and ranges of motion were collected from along the spine of the horse from the head to the base of the tail as well as from left and right hips.

The results indicate that:

  • Immediately after resolution of lameness, hip movement asymmetry (a traditional indicator of lameness) improved by on average 7%.
  • Movement asymmetry along the back decreased significantly by between 33% and 52% across pelvis, lumbar and mid thoracic region.
  • The range of motion of the back showed a clear increase, particularly in the mid thoracic and lumbar region, indicating that removing limb related pain allows the horses to move more freely through their back.

The RVC equine referral hospital is currently investing in an exciting upgrade of its gait analysis facilities. These facilities, combined with the expertise of one of the world’s leading animal biomechanics laboratories, the Structure and Motion Lab, put the RVC in the unique position to offer truly evidence-based decision making for horses with poor performance based on world-class facilities.

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