Inflammation is a response of the immune system trying to protect part of the body and generally trying to remove something unwanted. Sometimes an injury or overworking a joint can lead to inflammation (swelling, heat) but chronic inflammation means a joint is often swelled up. You may or may not be able to see the swelling because it may be inside the joint capsule. Arthritis and unhealed injuries generally cause this.
2. Injury or overuse
Joints can be strained during exercise (riding or playing in the paddock). Some activities are more stressful than others on joints; think jumping, cutting cows, tight turns, etc. Too much of these things can be very rough on the joints. So can being overweight – another reason to keep an eye on your horse’s body condition score.
3. Natural aging process
Degeneration naturally occurs with age. We see this in all animals and people. Our bodies break down with time and normal use even though they’re pretty amazing at rebuilding themselves. Healthy nutrition, physical fitness, and overall care certainly make us all age better.
4. Free radical damage
Free radicals are formed when weak bonds split. They are ‘loose’ parts of molecules. In terms of the body, think of an oxygen molecule being used in a muscle cell. It breaks down and suddenly you have part of that molecule running around, without supervision, trying to cause problems. Enter in antioxidants, who give up one of their electrons to the free radical, essentially taming it. If you have more of a background in this stuff, you’re probably chuckling at this overly simplified and dramatic example of free radicals, but it’s a quick example for someone not well versed in chemistry and biology. These free radicals cause a degenerative effect on the joint, especially the synovial fluid.
5. Degradative enzyme activity
Cartilage degredation can be caused by certain enzymes in the joint. That is to say, some enzymes can get in there and eat away at the cartilage.
Okay, so now we know the top 5 things that cause problems in the joints. How do we prevent or treat these things? We’ll look at that next…