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Bursitis & How To Treat It

What is Bursitis?

Bursitis comes in two forms, true bursitis and acquired bursitis. It’s extremely common in horses and causes bursa pain.

True bursitis is swelling and fluid build-up within soft tissue. It can be found affecting areas within the legs or withers, commonly, around the joints. True bursitis is generally easy to diagnose and treat correctly.

Acquired bursitis appears just under the skin as a reaction from friction or pressure. A tear within the tissue that lies beneath the skin allows fluid to build-up which then becomes trapped and sits in the fibrous tissue surrounding it.

The bursa is a small pocket filled with fluid and lies between muscles, skin, tendons and bones. This fluid reduces rubbing, friction and irritation within the leg by providing lubrication between the tissue.

Symptoms of Bursitis

Both true bursitis and acquired bursitis can be severe if not treated quickly. As soon as you notice any changes in your horse, whether this is physical or within their behaviour, you should contact your veterinarian straight away.

Here are some things to look out for: 


  • Swelling 
  • Localized heat
  • Pain
  • Lameness
  • Tenderness
  • Limited movement within the leg or shoulder
  • Refusing food or drink
  • Not wanting to walk
  • Behaviour changes 

The Different Types of Bursitis 

There are many different types of bursitis. Your veterinarian will be able to pinpoint which type of bursitis your horse has after it has been diagnosed. They will then choose the appropriate treatment plan for the specific type of bursitis. Any of the following types have the ability to become septic or infected. 

  • Carpal Hygroma 
  • Olecranon Bursitis
  • Calcaneal Bursitis
  • Cunean Bursitis
  • Navicular Bursitis
  • Bicipital Bursitis
  • Fistulous Withers 

What Causes Bursitis?

True bursitis develops from direct trauma or stress of performance training.
Acquired bursitis develops from inflammation within a bursa or from the excessive build-up of fluid within the layer of tissue just beneath the skin.

Treatment of Bursitis

First things first, you must consult your vet and they will carry out an examination. Depending on the affected bursa and the severity of the condition your veterinarian will then create the treatment plan needed.

Once you receive your treatment plan you must follow it, exactly. Any changes since staring the treatment plan must be reported back to your veterinarian.

Giving your horse time to rest is essential with bursitis. Stall rest is best, with a nice thick layer of dry bedding for cushioning. Pressure bandages and splints can help by immobilizing the affected leg. Cold applications to the affected area will help by reducing any swelling, but this is only most effective in the early stages of mild bursitis.

Medications such as Corticosteroid and anti-inflammatory may be used to reduce pain and swelling but you must consult your veterinarian about this first if your horse is already been provided with a treatment plan. 

If your horse’s bursitis has gone septic, a much higher intensity antibiotic will be needed to treat the infection. Surgical drains may need to be implanted if the build-up of fluid is severe. In some cases, removal of the bursa or closing the puncture is necessary.

Recovery from Bursitis  

Be sure to schedule all follow-up visits to your veterinarian after the treatment plan has started. If your horse is not responding to the treatment plan provided, inform your veterinarian so they can re-assess. 

With true bursitis, the course of medical condition is usually good. With acquired bursitis, the course of medical condition can be more hit and miss. 

Any horse that is diagnosed with any type of bursitis is at risk and may not recover even if treatment is given immediately.