Friday, 8 July 2016

All About ... Navicular

What is it

Navicular disease is the name used to describe damage or changes to the navicular bone.  This is a small bone in the foot just beside the pedal (or coffin) bone.  The disease usually affects both front feet.  There has been a lot of research into this 'disease' and advances in diagnosis and treatments.  However, it is still not certain what causes the changes or damage.  

A is a healthy navicular bone.  B a damaged bone.


  • In early stages slight, intermittent lameness 
  • As disease progresses the horse will begin to take shorter steps in front 
  • Horse will tend to put the toe down first


Research continues but the cause of the 'changes' to the navicular bone are thought to be due to stress of the bone or supporting tissue.  This stress can be increased by:

  • Conformation - horses with upright pasterns place extra strain on the bone.  Also horses with smaller feet or contracted heels. 
  • Breed - some breeds are more likely to develop navicular than others eg: Thoroughbred's, Warmbloods and Quarterhorses.  Again this is due to their conformation! 
  • Excessive work on hard ground increases stress on the bone and surrounding tissues.


The vet will initially use flexion tests and nerve blocking to pinpoint the area causing the lameness.   An MRI scan will then allow the vet to identify the changes within the bone. 


This will depend on the cause.  Horses do not make a full recovery but the condition can be managed.  Specialist shoeing may help to reduce the stress on the bone, heel wedges or bar shoes sometimes help.  Some suggest horses are better bare foot.  Anti-inflammatory drugs and rest.  Some horse's will improve so they are able to undertake light work.  Encourage blood flow to the area by allowing the horse to move around (ie: not box rest).  Swimming can help keep the horse moving and the blood pumping without putting strain on the legs and feet.


As navicular disease is thought to be partly due to conformational faults prevention is not necessarily possible.  However, steps can be taken to perhaps reduce the risk.

  • Regular shoeing and trimming of feet paying particular attention to foot angles and heel support 
  • Avoid excessive work on hard and/or irregular ground 
  • Reducing time spent standing (ie: do not stable for 24 hours a day) - to keep blood flowing to feet

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Until next time!

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