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Tendons & Ligaments: Treating Injuries and Supporting Healthy Tissues

SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian regarding specific questions about your horse's health. This information is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease, and is purely educational.

Tendon & Ligament Health

The terms “tendon” and ligament” are often used interchangeably. While they are similar in some ways (they’re both considered “soft tissue” or “connective tissue”), they’re different in others. Like the name “connective tissue” suggests, the role of tendons and ligaments is to connect. Where they differ is in what they connect – tendons connect muscle to bone while ligaments attach bone to bone. Both tendons and ligaments are vital to the proper functioning of your horse’s joints, and an injury could affect his soundness and performance level.


There are two tendons that run down the back of the leg. The one nearest to the skin is the superficial digital flexor tendon and the one nearest to the cannon bone is the deep digital flexor tendon. If your horse has injured one of these tendons, it’s likely that you’ll hear your veterinarian mention tendinitis, which is a term used to describe inflammation or swelling of the tendon. Tendon injuries can vary in severity, from a mild strain to a complete tear. One of the most common tendon injuries is often referred to as a “bowed” tendon, named for the bow shape that develops on the back side of the cannon bone when there is stretching and swelling in the tendon.  

Ligament Injuries

There are several important ligaments found in your horse’s legs, including the suspensory ligaments, check ligaments and sesamoid ligaments. If your horse has injured a ligament, your vet may say that he has desmitis, which is a term used to describe inflammation of a ligament. Similar to tendon injuries, ligament injuries can vary in severity, from a mild strain to a complete tear. One common ligament injury you may have heard of is often called a “pulled” suspensory, which is when the suspensory ligament is sprained and inflammation develops.


It is important to supply the building blocks for tissue re-growth while at the same time provide protection against free If you notice unsoundness in your horse and suspect that he may have a soft tissue injury, it’s important to contact your vet immediately for a lameness exam and, hopefully, a diagnosis. The lameness examination may include flexion tests, palpation and nerve blocks to try and identify the source of the lameness. While x-rays may be taken, ultrasound is the imaging tool of choice for diagnosing and assessing soft tissue injuries. MRI and CT scans are also now being used to visualize potentially damaged structures. Most vets prefer to use one of these imaging tools because visualizing the injury enhances their ability to predict how severe it is and how long it will take to heal.


Once you receive a diagnosis, it’s important to work with your vet to design the appropriate rehabilitation program for your horse. Many rehab programs progress from stall rest to hand walking, then a gradual return to riding and regular work, but timelines vary greatly based on the extent of the injury, so it’s important to work closely with your vet. Depending on your horse and his particular injury, your vet may also recommend cold therapy (such as icing or cold hosing), support bandages (like quilts and stable bandages), or  Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)  such as phenylbutazone (bute), Banamine®, Equioxx® Oral Paste or Surpass® Topical Cream to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Newer therapies such as IRAP (interleukin-1 receptor antagonist protein), stem cells and ESWT (extra corporeal shock wave therapy) may also be beneficial. You should plan to check in with your vet regularly to monitor your horse’s progress throughout the rehabilitation process.

Supplements that May Lend Support

Supplements may help your horse during his recovery by supporting a healthy inflammatory response, managing discomfort, and providing the building blocks his body needs during the healing process. Supplementation is a smart way to help your horse get what he needs for normal healing.
Choosing the right supplement may seem like a daunting task, but we’re here to help. We’ve identified three areas of support that can help your horse during his recovery.

Soft Tissue Support

Supplementation with the building blocks of connective tissue may help support healthy, resilient tendons and ligaments.

  • Collagen is the main structural protein found in connective tissues such as tendons and ligaments, and supplementing with it may help those tissues stay strong and healthy.
  • Silica is required for cartilage formation and is thought to help maintain the strength of tendons and ligaments.

Support a Healthy Response to Inflammation

Inflammation is part of the body’s healing process, but too much inflammation can be damaging to tissues. Supplements can support a healthy inflammatory response and help manage discomfort. - MSM is best known for its ability to support a normal response to inflammation and research has shown that it protects tissues against the damaging effects of exercise and stress. It is also a bioavailable form of sulfur –which is necessary for the formation of connective tissues vital to joint health. - Devil’s Claw, yucca and boswellia are herbs used extensively to fight discomfort of bones, joints and other tissues. - Omega 3 fatty acids support a healthy inflammatory response and are important for cellular health.


Antioxidants can help neutralize the damaging free radicals that are released during times of stress, illness or heavy activity. An injury is one stressor that can increase the amount of free radicals produced in the body. The presence of too many free radicals is believed to be the primary cause of inflammation and cell destruction.

  • Vitamin C, a potent antioxidant, protects tissues throughout the body and is vital to the production of connective tissues, including cartilage, tendons and ligaments.
  • Super Oxide Dismutase (SOD), the most effective antioxidant in the body, is the first line of defense against free radicals that can damage cells.
  • Resveratrol, the potent antioxidant found in the skin of red grapes, is showing promising results in protecting against free radical damage, as well as its effects on numerous other body systems.
Want to make sure your horse has everything he needs, including recovery support? SmartPak’s Supplement Wizard makes it fast, fun and easy! Just answer a few questions about your horse’s lifestyle and health and the Wizard will provide customized supplement recommendations.
Have additional questions? Contact our Supplement Experts at 1-888-540-1019 or and we’ll be happy to help you make the right decision for your horse.
Related Reading
Ask the Vet: “Bowed” Tendons and “Pulled” Suspensories
Ask the Vet: Supplement Time Limit?
Ask the Vet: Soft Tissue Recovery
Ask the Vet: Support for Equine Ligament Injury
Conditioning Countdown
How to Wrap Your Horse’s Legs
Soundness Exam
A Sound Investment
Formula for Success

Healthy Horses  ❤  Happy Riders