Everyone has heard the phrase “as healthy as a horse,” and any horse owner will laugh and disagree. Horses, as magnificent and powerful as they seem, are actually pretty fragile. In addition to their sensitive digestive systems, horses have delicate bones in their legs.

Equestrians understand that the wear and tear of joints is normal or even expected. However, that doesn’t mean your horse should have to suffer in silence. Horse joint injections can help keep your horse in peak physical condition.

While proper nutrition and exercise are paramount, there may also come a time when your horse needs a targeted intervention. Read on to learn more about joint injections for horses.

Types of Joint Injections

Horses may receive injections to relieve pain or treat a specific ailment, much like we do. However, it’s part of your duty as a horse owner to know what’s happening with your horse. Here are the most common reasons your horse might need a joint injection.

Blocking Joints

“Blocking” is a type of diagnostic tool that vets use to identify the origin of pain. This helps them determine if there’s any association between a joint and lameness. If your horse is lame in their hind leg, it can be difficult to tell if it’s because of the hock or fetlock.

Your horse vet may start by blocking the hock before asking you to make your horse move again. If your horse is no longer lame on that leg, then you’ve found the issue. Blocking will help your vet identify the issue and administer the proper treatments.

Medicating Damaged Joints

Horses can get arthritis too, and it’s unfortunately common in older horses. Like human arthritis, it is a degenerative joint disease that can cause chronic pain and inflammation. It also has no cure, so the only option is to manage it.

This is where medicinal joint injections come in. These types of injections can also help with soreness, stiffness, and intermittent lameness.

Certain treatments can help control inflammation in the joint. In turn, this helps improve your horse’s mobility. Your vet may recommend routine joint injections if you have a high-performance horse.

Synovial Fluid Sample

If your horse has joint issues, your vet may need advanced diagnostics, like taking a synovial fluid sample. Synovial fluid comes from the horse’s synovium. This liquid protects your horse’s joints during movement and reduces friction.

Any alteration in the synovial fluid may indicate inflammation, infection, or trauma. Your vet can get this information from the color and thickness of the fluid. They may also analyze it under a microscope to assess its protein concentration or nucleated cell count.

It’s safe to say that an infection in the joint is a medical emergency for horses. Without proper treatment, it can lead to arthritis and severe cartilage damage.

Joint Treatments for Horses

Joint injections, regardless of the reasons, usually undergo the same process. Your vet will first clip the injection site unless your horse has a very fine coat. The area is then scrubbed with an antiseptic until it’s surgically sound.

Depending on the nature and reactivity of the horse, your vet may restrain them. Horses that are more afraid of needles may require sedation unless your vet is testing for lameness.

These are the most common medications your horse may or may have already received in their lifespan.

Corticosteroids and Hyaluronic Acid

Healthy horse joints have a natural compound found in healthy horse joints. This compound makes up part of your horse’s connective tissues and cartilage. Corticosteroids are synthetic steroid drugs that help reduce inflammation.

A mixture of corticosteroids and hyaluronic acid helps target inflammation and provide relief. Some horses may show an immediate improvement in their demeanor. However, this is only a temporary solution for pain relief and won’t help your horse regenerate lost or damaged tissue.

Fortunately, it’s more affordable than other joint medications. This makes it a good option for managing joint pain in horses.


Your horse’s body produces a protein known as IRAP to reduce inflammation. Your vet will extract blood from your horse and incubate it before injecting the solution into the joint.

IRAP can help reduce inflammation and trigger regeneration. This treatment promotes healing in the joints.

Platelet Rich Plasma

PRP is another injection derived from your horse’s blood. After collecting blood from your horse, the vet will process it in a centrifuge. This enables them to separate platelets from the blood, which the vet can use to produce medication.

PRP is another great treatment that promotes healing and pain relief. This is a good option not only for arthritis but also for ligament or tendon tears.

Risks of Joint Injections

Joint injections can have amazing benefits that improve your horse’s quality of life. However, it’s essential to understand that injections can have complications. Here are some risks associated with joint injections for horses.

Lack of Effect

Though some injections can provide immediate relief, it isn’t a magic solution to a horse’s lameness. Some medications may not have an effect at all, and your horse may need more medication.

If blocking was unsuccessful, it may mean that the joint was not injected at the right time. It can also mean that your horse has periarticular pain.

Flares and Infections

Flares and infections can happen at any time after a joint injection. If your horse is experiencing pain, swelling, or heat around the injected area, they must see a vet immediately for evaluation.

Flares usually occur hours after injection. Infections can manifest up to five days post-injection.

Articular Cartilage Degeneration

High doses of corticosteroids can result in articular cartilage degeneration in some cases. These injections can be beneficial, but receiving moderate to high doses frequently can be a cause for concern.

An Equestrian’s Guide to Horse Joint Injections

Horse joint injections can relieve a horse of pain and even help them heal. However, it can be detrimental if a horse receives too many doses of a high volume. When it comes to horse joint health, it’s always best to talk to a professional.

High Country Vet has been delivering the highest quality of equine care since 2013. We serve all around Yampa Valley and offer 24/7 emergency services. Get in touch to learn more!