Quantitative evaluation of equine deep digital flexor tendon morphology using magnetic resonance imaging

Murray RC, Roberts BL, Schramme MC, et al.

Vet Radiol Ultrasound 2004;45:103-111.

Injury of the distal aspect of the deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT) is a recognized cause of lameness, but diagnosis is difficult. This study aimed to improve understanding of DDFT morphology and pathology using retrospective evaluation of magnetic resonance (MR) images. We hypothesized that: (1) The distal aspect of the DDFT in normal horses would have a repeatable proximal/distal pattern and symmetry between limbs and between lobes; (2) DDFT dimensions would be related to bodyweight, navicular bone dimensions and hoof size; (3) this symmetry and pattern would be lost in DDFT injury; and (4) DDFT size would increase with injury. MR images of 64 live horse limbs, 26 with no identified DDFT lesion and 38 with identified DDFT abnormalities, and 19 normal cadaver limbs were analyzed. Using standardized transverse images, measurements of DDFT cross-sectional area, medial-lateral (ML) width and dorsal-palmar depth were obtained at six preselected sites. A uniform distal to proximal shape pattern was identified in all horses. The flattened crescent shape at the insertion changed to a deeper bilobed shape more proximally, with the mid-navicular area having the greatest cross-sectional area. Strong ML (P < 0.0006) and left/right symmetry (P < 0.02) were observed. In addition, there was a strong association between DDFT cross-sectional area and horse weight (P = 0.005) and between DDFT and navicular bone ML width (P = 0.004). Symmetry between sides or between lobes was lost at sites with a unilateral lesion and correlation between horse weight and DDFT cross-sectional area was lost in the presence of lesions. DDFTs with core lesions had a consistent increase in cross-sectional area overall, but other lesion types had no significant increase in size. The shape and symmetry seen in normal tendons could be related to the mechanical demands placed upon individual lobes. The limited increase in cross-sectional area with injury may be explained by the restrictive structures of the hoof, possibly explaining the ongoing pain seen in such lesions.