Bone Problems and Their Homeopathic Solutions
Bones form an integral part of the musculoskeletal system to provide the framework that supports the horse and protects the organs of the body. They are held in place and activated by muscles, which in turn are activated by nerve impulses sent by the brain.
A number of bone conditions will be located at the ends of the bone, at the joints. Joints act as shock absorbers and allow the flexibility that enables the horse to stand, walk, run, jump and lie down.
Problems arising for the equine relating to bone disorders can occur through injury, mechanical trauma, as developmental issues, genetic predispositions, conformational faults, nutritional imbalances, and infection. These problems can be found at the seat of many lameness issues that may be encountered.
More often than not, a veterinarian will be required to diagnose what the problem is and will commonly need the aid of local anaesthetic nerve blocks, radiographs, nuclear scintigraphy (bone scanning), ultrasound or surgical exploration to truly determine the cause and nature of the bone condition.
STRUCTURE AND FUNCTION:
Bone is also responsible for storing the minerals calcium and phosphorus. An additional important function of bone is the production of red and white blood corpuscles. Bone is not a static structure and is constantly being replaced. It has the capacity to change shape and remodel according to the stresses placed upon it. This can especially be seen in the young horse.
Although individual bones have a different appearance, size and shape, they all have the same basic structure. The long bones are comprised of a shaft made of a tubular pattern with walls of dense, compact cortical (outer) bone surrounding a central medullary (marrow) cavity. At each end of the bone is softer bone mixed with marrow called cancellous bone (or subchondral bone, i.e. bone that lies beneath the joint cartilage surface), overlain by a thin layer of cortical bone. The epiphysis, or growth plate (physis), is at the very ends of the bone underlying the articular cartilage. The bone matrix is made of a collagen base where bone salts are harboured. It contains many bone cells (osteocytes), blood vessels and nerves. The length of the bone shaft is enveloped with periosteum, a thin but tough fibrous membrane overlying a layer of connective tissue infiltrated with a good blood supply where there are many cells capable of becoming active bone forming cells (osteoblasts). It is the periosteum by which tendons and ligaments are attached to bone.
A FEW OF THE MANY BONE CONDITIONS:
A common distress to horse carers is the occurrence of splints. They develop for a variety of reasons such as: the stresses of poor conformation, improper hoof trimming creating unbalanced loading, incorrect proportions of calcium and phosphorus in the diet, direct trauma to the bone from a kick or blow, or mechanical tearing of the interosseous ligament between the splint and cannon bones.
However, even though they are generally unsightly and capable of causing initial lameness, they seldom remain a long-term problem. If the presence of severe lameness persists after a period of rest and treatment for 6 weeks there may be other causes involved and you will need to re-consult your veterinarian. Some horses are predisposed to excessive production of new bone that can lead to interference with the normal function of the suspensory ligament. This is sometimes addressed by surgical intervention.
Bucked shins, or sore shins, are frequently seen in youngsters introduced to concussive workloads premature to the stage of development of bone that can handle such stresses. A once widely held belief was that this condition occurred due to the tearing of periosteum. However, in current times it is commonly seen to be caused by an incomplete fracture to the cortex of the cannon bone. Forces of compression and repetitive loading can even result in a lacework of microfractures, or fissures, called saucer fractures.
The barbaric practice of using a counterirritant such as pin firing should not be supported. This technique is said to stimulate inflammation and circulation to the area to induce speedier and perhaps tougher bone remodelling. However, it also burns off and destroys fine nerves to the area. Consequently the horse does not receive the feedback from the area that there is pain and something wrong, and with his natural protective response to take it easy eliminated, he then continues to work and further increase the damage! The best healing can only be provided with rest that may be assisted with homeopathic care while the bone remodels (Note: Complete box rest will heal a fracture but not encourage bone remodelling. Light exercise can be encouraged.)
The unwelcome condition of ringbone can arise at a number of sites from the pastern joint to the coffin joint. It can result from shoeing, bad conformation, genetic predisposition, and concussive forces from too much work on hard surfaces. Mechanically, the pulling of collateral ligaments of the joints involved, pulling of the joint capsule attachments to bone, pulling of the attachment of the common extensor tendon to the first, second or third phalanx, and direct blows to the phalanges will begin the process. A wire cut or infection, deep enough to penetrate periosteum, may also encourage ringbone. Thus the periosteum is disturbed and periostitis (inflammation of the periosteum) and new bone growth result.
A prognosis for ringbone can vary from guarded to poor. It depends on a number of factors, some of which are: how early it was diagnosed and appropriate therapy employed, whether a joint is involved, to what degree a joint is involved, which joint is involved (coffin joint being the worst scenario), is ankylosis (bridging of the joint by new bone growth/ossification leading to immobilisation of the joint) developing etc. Careful hoofcare and management practices are imperative for cases that can be worked with.
A greater prevalence of DOD (Developmental Orthopaedic Disease) is being seen such as OCD (osteochondritis dessicans). OCD lesions have both an inflammatory and mechanical component in this joint disease process. Young, rapidly growing horses are most susceptible and may also have a genetic predisposition.
In healthy joints, joint cartilage is fixed to underlying bone. However, when the diet is imbalanced or lacking in nutrition and is accompanied by a shortage of exercise, a surface layer of defective or unhealthy cartilage forms over the epiphysis as a young horse grows. Should exercise be suddenly increased, the extra joint loading causes the defective cartilage to lift off the underlying bone, thus leaving a loose layer of cartilage that tears away from the bone to form a flap of cartilage within the joint. The consequent inflammation leads to pain and synovitis (joint swelling). When the horse bears weight through his limbs, the bone is of different density under the OCD lesion area. The weight-bearing forces are transmitted differently through one part of the bone, compared to the other, and that creates shear forces in the joint of a mechanical nature. A joint with diseased or poorly formed cartilage also allows painful bone-to-bone contact.
The diet should be carefully re-evaluated to reduce feed intake and slow growth rate while maintaining an appropriate mineral supplementation. Exercise needs to be restricted for several weeks. Arthroscopic surgery is utilised in some cases
Homeopathic treatment can be of great benefit to the many bone related disorders. Refer to the list below for help in choosing some of the homeopathic remedies that can help to minimise bruising, inflammation, and ossification, address lameness, escalate the healing process, promote reabsorption of osseous tissue, repair damaged periosteum, ligaments/tendons, connective tissue, help dissolve fibrotic growths, rebalance bone mineralisation, aid in arthritis, fractures, curtail destructive processes, etc. Please refer to your Materia Medica for a full symptom profile as this is by no means a fully comprehensive listing nor a replacement for the advice of your veterinarian! For complicated cases seek the assistance of a professional homeopath or holistic veterinarian.
APIS is a leader of oedemateous swellings. Use for joint and bursa inflammations where there is heat, sensitivity and puffy swellings, and for stocked up legs. Consider its use for acute navicular disease or lameness of the scapula. The patient is often better for uncovering or cold hosing, has a low to non-existent thirst and is worse with any form of heat. When problem parts are both cool to touch and better for cold applications then Ledum may be another choice (used also for punctures through to bone).
ARNICA for initial accident or trauma of any kind with associated bruising, haemorrhage, shock, inflammation and pain. It encourages reabsorption of blood from bruised tissues, acts as an anti-inflammatory, has antiseptic properties, and hastens healing. The region is sensitive to touch and worse with exercise. The patient may be averse to being fussed over.
AURUM-MET for bony lumps, deformities of the head especially of the forehead, upper jaw, and nasal area, and swelling of the periosteum of cannon bones. Also where there is bone necrosis and destruction. May be of use in pedal osteitis. Knees may become weak and tottery on walking. Bone pains are worse at night with the patient despondent and depressed.
BRYONIA for muscle or bone soreness and pain, especially when worse for the slightest movement. Useful for acute rheumatic affections, arthritis of the lower limbs, synovitis, bursitis i.e. capped elbow or capped hock, pains of the lumbar or sacral spine that is worse when the horse turns. The patient is better when rested (prefers NO movement) may prefer bandaging, prefers to lie on the painful side, and may have a marked thirst for large drinks at long intervals.
CALC-CARB for disorders of bone metabolism, poor bone mineralisation and parathyroid hormone imbalances. Assists in correcting sodium, potassium and magnesium imbalances. Use for exostoses (excess bone formation), arthritic nodosities, osteomalacia (bone softening), Bighead (low bone calcium), displays of weakness or lameness of joints, spinal pain, and curvature of bones. Growth disorders may be addressed in the Calc-carb type who tends to be sturdy/fat, flabby and fairly lazy. The patient is better for lying down and in dry weather.
CALC-FLUOR for ailments due to straining and over-stretching with general stiffness, swellings and hard nodes in ligaments, adhesions, damage to periosteum, muscles and tendons, connective tissue. Where there is bony exostoses or fibrous formation e.g. bone splints, ringbone, sidebone, bone spavin, spondylosis of the spinal vertebrae, osteophytes (bony outgrowths of joint margins), Wobblers disease, etc. Given post surgery it reduces the tendency to adhesions. The patient may be worse at the beginning of motion and appear better with continued motion, and may be better for warm applications and massage.
CALC-PHOS for broken/fractured bones that have not responded sufficiently to using Symphytum, or the patient is young and malnourished. If the bones are slow to callus (form new remodelled bone) then use Calc-phos. It addresses parathyroid hormone imbalance, epiphyseal malformation, bone cell health, osseous tumours, and exostoses. Growth disorders may be addressed in the Calc-phos type who tends to be wiry, lean, and active with poor assimilation of calcium and phosphorus.
HECLA-LAVA for bony growths on the skull with a marked action on the jawbones especially when accompanied by lymph node swelling, and bone necrosis. Useful for joint deformities where exostoses are evident such as ringbone, sidebone, bone spavin, and angular limb deformities. Also consider for osteitis, navicular, rickets, hip joint problems, periostitis, and osteo-sarcoma. Complaints are often initiated after injury.
KALI-BIC...for affected bones and fibrous tissues leading to arthritic conditions with weakness, pain and swelling. Joints may crack on motion and the pains are worse in cold weather. Rheumatic symptoms may alternate with gastric symptoms. Suppressed nasal discharge leading to sinus bone pains may also be helped. Consider for coccygeal pain and neck stiffness where the horse has difficulty bending to eat from ground level. Suitable for pains in small spots, i.e. a splint, or periostitis from a blow. The patient may appear worse in the mornings or after sleep and is better for heat, motion and pressure.
MEZEREUM for bones that seem enlarged, long bones are inflamed and swollen. May be useful for subchondral cysts, periostitis, bony exostoses of the skull, cranial bones that are painful, swollen and sensitive to cold and touch, and sinus abscess. Also when there is painful coccyx after a fall. Swelling of femur and shortening of tendons preventing extension of limb. Skin eruptions may also accompany bone complaints.
OSTEOARTHRITIS NOSODE...Note: a nosode is produced from the tissues or secretions of a diseased lesion. This nosode has been made from fluid taken from an osteoarthritic joint, dissolved in alcohol and then diluted and succussed to become a homeopathic potency. Primarily used for treating degenerative joint conditions though ringbone and spavin may also benefit. It may be used on its own or alternated with other remedies intercurrently during treatment.
RHUS-TOX for muscle or bone soreness and pain especially when sore and stiff at the beginning of motion but improving with continued motion, i.e. warming up. Useful for inflammation and swelling of long bones, soreness of prominent projections of bones, arthritis, and rheumatism. Symptoms are often right-sided more than the left. The patient is restless and wants to change position constantly and may be worse confined to the stable than left outdoors but is worse for wet, cold weather. The horse may also find stretching exercises of the limbs favourable.
RUTA-GRAV...is most specific for damage and inflammation to the periosteum of bone. Also good for cartilage, muscle or tendon/ligament, and connective tissue ailments. Excellent for injuries of overuse and lameness after sprains, especially of the lower limbs. Helpful for neck strains, frozen shoulder, damaged tendon sheaths, bruised or fractured bones, dislocations, slipping stifles, rheumatism, etc. The patient will have pain on bending the joints, sometimes cracking of joints. Parts of the body are painful as if bruised with a sore aching and restlessness. The patient is easily tired from physical exertion and is worse for climbing up or down hills.
SILICEA...this remedy has a strong affinity for many tissues including bones, ligaments, cellular, cartilage, mucous membranes, and skin. It has an ability to help reabsorb scar tissue and fibrotic conditions. It is often employed in the suppuration of splinters or other foreign bodies that include bone chips if close enough to the surface. Used to address defective nutrition especially in the young, weak knees and loss of power in legs, chronic synovitis of the knees, degeneration of spinal processes and curvature, lameness from sacrum through to hips. The patient can be timid and yielding yet can be obstinate and fixed, feels the cold and desires warmth and is worse from over-exertion.
SYMPHYTUM...is a principal remedy for bone injuries. Examples are: blows from blunt instruments, fractures, slow repair of broken bone, bone cancer, stone bruises, anything pertaining to the periosteum, cartilage damage, inflammation of bone, epiphysitis, DOD, OCD, phantom limb pain, torn ligaments or tendons, head or spinal injury, and penetrating wounds to the bone etc. It also favours production of a callus. The patient is better for warmth and rest with gentle motion. Symphytum is complementary to Ruta-grav and may be used in alternation with it. Arnica is most suited to soft tissue injury and Symphytum to hard tissue injury.
Homeopathic remedies are most effective when the symptoms and the remedy picture are closely matched. While the above remedies are indicated for bone problems, they are not limited to these problems, nor are bone problems limited to these remedies. Considering the type of condition and the nature of the horse, a professional homeopath can give the best guidance on which remedy fits the patient.
This article is for educational purposes and in no way replaces veterinary advice or treatment. Always call your veterinarian when serious events arise. If you desire to follow a holistic path then I would recommend that you obtain approval from your veterinarian to seek the professional services of a qualified classical homeopath or other certified holistic health practitioner.
About the author:
For more information, and to find a homeopath near you:
Tanya Nolte, Classical EquiHomeopath.
Whispering Horse Therapies
PO Box 22, Nimbin
NSW 2480, Australia
Phone 02 66897296
Australian Homeopathic Association
PO Box 396 Drummoyne
NSW 1470, Australia
Phone 02 97192763
Holistic Animal Therapy Association of Australia
PO Box 202, Ormond, Melbourne
Vic 3204, Australia
Phone 03 59688100
The Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy
751 N.E. 168th Street
North Miami Beach, FL 33162-2427
National Center for Homeopathy
801 North Fairfax St., Suite 306
Alexandria, VA 22314
American Holistic Veterinary Medical
2214 Old Emmorton Road
Bel Air, MD 21015