Windgalls in Horses | Symptoms, Causes & Treatments
We look at the health condition Windgalls, symptoms of the condition, what are the main causes of the problem and what treatments are available to owners.
What are windgalls? (sometimes referred to as 'wind puffs')
Windgalls, also known as wind puffs, are soft synovial swellings that develop slightly above and behind the fetlock joint, due to an over-secretion of joint fluid, caused by irritation to the joint surfaces or joint capsule.
Windgalls may occur in other joints and tendons but are most commonly found around the fetlocks or on the digital flexor tendon sheath. We investigate how they are caused, diagnosed and treatments available.
There are two types of windgalls diagnosed by professionals often referred to as ‘Tendinous Windgalls’ and ‘Articular Windgalls’. Generally, windgalls are benign in nature and are regarded as minor damage to the joint, appearing without pain, heat or lameness. A windgall type of swelling appearing below the fetlock and indicating levels of pain, heat or lameness, should be treated with suspicion.
The most commonly occurring type of windgall diagnosed is 'tendinous windgall' and is typically seen in middle-aged horses who have had a busy and active life.
Often the swelling is actually the membrane that lines the sheath which becomes thicker, as opposed to a build-up of fluid around the joint. 'Tendinous Windgalls' are unlikely to cause pain or lameness and in most cases, the animal intermittently experiences the issue.
Articular windgalls often occur in horses who have been diagnosed with the degenerative joint disease (DJD) or similar issues involving the joints within the legs. Articular windgalls are found in numerous horses who display no symptoms of lameness and are firm swollen protrusions in the middle of the cannon bone or the suspensory ligament. Articular windgalls are common in show jumping and barrel racing horses due to the regular impact on the joints when jumping and twisting around barrels.
In the same way that bog spavin can be a symptom of degenerative joint disease in the hock joint, windgalls is sometimes associated to be an indication of an underlying problem.
Although rarely creating visible pain, it is of significant importance to dressage riders, 3-day Eventers and show horses and ponies that their legs are in the best condition possible and as much as anything they simply look horrible!
The fact that no pain is experienced, it is widely accepted that the most appropriate action to take is a more natural approach.
Symptoms of windgalls in Horses
There are a few symptoms which you can look out for to help diagnose windgalls in horses and understanding the best form of treatment. Diagnosing windgalls is relatively straight forward and in most cases does not require a veterinary examination.
The first symptom often found is swelling around the fetlock joint and the tendons themselves. They will often seem larger (swollen) but not be sore to touch. More serious cases may create a rigid swelling around the sheath. In some cases your horse will indicate an issue through changes in their performance. Lameness from windgalls is extremely rare and if this is found then it will often indicate a more significant underlying issue in the horses hoof.
What are the main causes of windgalls?
Windgalls in horses are due to irritation to the surfaces of the joints and are often found in more active horses. In some scenarios it is thought that windgalls are present due to excess fluid in the tendon sheath but the following factors are the most commonly reported contributions to the condition:
– Bad conformation.
– Overworking the horse.
– Extensive activity/exercise on hard surfaces.
– Improper trimming/farrier work.
– A tear to the ligament, tendon or joint capsule.
– An injury to the cartilage within the joint.
Traditional used treatments for windgalls
There remains no scientifically proven cure for windgalls.
Once windgalls occur, they are likely to come back when activity or exercise is again increased, so, a long term approach to treating the condition is required.
If your horse experiences windgalls it is advised by many that you should consult with your vet to establish a specific treatment plan including potentially a change in the horses exercise and diet.
Modifying your horse’s training or work can help to reduce the irritation and inflammation that leads to the onset of windgalls.
It is important not to increase heat levels within the swollen leg, this is of significant importance when looking to reduce any form of inflammation or swelling and particularly with 'windgall swelling'. In this regard, traditional magnetic devices creating a pulse should be avoided as they create heat via the oscillating nature of their magnet fields. Many of these traditional products will indicate a maximum length of time their magnets can be worn, and indication of how they increase heat around the horses leg.
A low-cost and natural treatment often deployed includes the use of cold compresses and bandages. These are generally time-consuming to apply and maintain and simply 'cover the issue'.
Anti-inflammatory medications or NSAIDS are widely used to help reduce inflammation, however, with the side effects they can cause many users will resist the need unless the horse is showing signs of pain.
Focal ultrasound therapy is now a technique which can be administered and injections of hyaluronic acid may be considered if the problem is severe. This can help normalise the environment of the tendon sheath.
It is widely accepted within the equine community that due to windgalls being mostly cosmetic in most circumstances avoiding invasive therapy is morally correct. The requirement to find a natural solution to this commonly diagnosed issue is of significant interest.
Along with providing complementary devices many horse owners who have a horse with windgalls ensure that the horse is shooed correctly. They must ensure the horse is not being over worked or working on to hard surfaces.
New approaches to treating Windgalls
There are a variety of complementary treatments that are available to support the ongoing care and maintenance of your horse with windgalls, many of which are not endorsed by medical science but still represent an option to owners.
Many supplements and herbs are available on the market to provide support to horses joints and their general wellbeing, but not specifically developed for windgalls.
Natural or homeopathy approaches can be applied using extracts such as Boswellia Serrata Extract Powder which is used to provide anti-inflammatory response and a natural form of pain relief.
The majority of owners apply cold compresses or bandages to aid a reduction in inflammation, this can be tiresome and is often required on a daily basis.
With advancements in magnetic technologies many owners battling windgalls now turn to advanced magnetic products to use alongside any other treatments. These advanced magnetic technologies, although only supported anecdotally, are making waves within the equine community due to their continuously growing support based on results. In some cases, it is reported that this non invasive form of magnetic technology creates no heat and as such is ideal for supporting inflammatory issues such as windgalls. In some glowing reports owners have seen results within a few days and complete disappearance within a few weeks. Although complementary and not endorsed by medical science, advanced magnetic products such as EQU StreamZ provide owners with another option in the treatment of windgalls.