Although a horse with a temporomandibular joint condition may have heat, pain, and swelling in the area, many of the signs and symptoms of a TMJ disorder are general and could be caused by other problems. For example, just like in joints of the limbs, a numbing agent or local anesthetic can be injected into the TMJ region to see if blocking pain makes a difference.
And sometimes imaging tools such as X-ray, ultrasound or even a CT (which must be performed under general anesthesia) can be helpful in confirming the diagnosis or establishing a prognosis. For example, if dental disease is determined to be the trigger factor, then corrective work in the mouth should be performed to ensure proper bite and alignment.
Complementary and alternative therapy such as chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, and others may also be advised to help restore the horse’s body back to normal. Any misalignment, trauma, inflammation or other problem in his TMJ affects not only his ability to chew, but also his digestion, his balance, the function of his neck and back, and much more.
Equine massage is an effective way to help your horse’s TMJ get back to normal function. In the simplest of terms, the TMJ connects the mandible (jawbone) to the temporal bone (which forms the forehead).
These, in turn, rely on proper muscle contraction and relaxation in order to work correctly. Depending on the cause, TMJ issues can start as minor discomfort and progress to a constant and severe headache.
Horses spend many hours a day grazing and chewing, and if there is a constant imbalance in the mouth, it will put undue stress on the TMJ. TMJ dysfunction is believed to be more common than we realize, so it’s a good idea to be aware of the symptoms and communicate them to your veterinarian if you suspect a problem.
Common clinical signs include pain on palpation of the TMJ or manipulation of the jaw, an enlargement of the joint (which can most easily be observed from the front) and atrophy of one or both masseter muscles. If you hear any irregularities while your horse chews, or see him dropping feed or tilting his head while eating, or if you find any asymmetries when looking at the teeth, definitely have your veterinarian investigate.
As mentioned previously, soft tissues are associated with healthy TMJ function, and these can remain tight and cause problems on their own. Many of the muscles in the face, primarily the masseter, can be quite tight and harbor trigger points that need to be released in order for chewing to return to normal.
Gentle massage work right around the joint, as well as jaw mobilizations, can help release a lot of the tension that builds up in the area. This is the reason why a full body massage is recommended to address TMJ problems as thoroughly as possible, even when the area of concern is quite small.
We already know how vital it is for a horse to have a properly functioning digestive tract, but correct mastication is a crucial first step in this process. Not only does TMJ pain prevent them from chewing correctly, it can also cause quite a bit of stress and affect their quality of life significantly.
Having a horse who softly accepts a bit and flexes comfortably to either side is extremely important no matter what discipline you focus on. Due to its location, its innervation, and its proximity to the brain stem, dysfunction in the TMJ can also cause balance and body awareness issues, since this area has functions similar to the human ear.
In 2004, she graduated from the intensive two-year, 2,200-hour equine massage therapy program at the D'Army Lane Institute in London, Ontario, Canada. Whether the horse is a backyard pet or a Grand Prix mount, ANIA enjoys helping them all feel their best.
Or, a harsher sensation can result in the animal’s gaping mouth and visible pain. To the horse, the metal appliance is a foreign object inserted in a small space in his mouth.
The bit’s movement stimulates a response in the horse’s body: immobile, forward, backward, left, or right. A bit’s action influences the horse through pressure, on the bones of the jaw (mandibles) and the tissues of tongue, cheeks, and lips.
To evade a bit pressure, he can try to move his jaw in a circle, or reposition his strong, muscular tongue and mobile lips. R. Clay Stubby, DVD, Johnson City, Texas, noted, “If you put pressure on the tongue, the horse’s response is.
But your horse may also be showing signs of TMD, a disease of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) located just below and in front of the ears, one each on either side of the head. In April 2016, Kim Rose, a professional equitation and hunter/jumper trainer in Delta, British Columbia, purchased Julio, a three-year-old Takeover/Thoroughbred gelding.
He was a beautiful mover and athlete and generally well-behaved under saddle, but he began to have episodes of going from cool to explosive on the lunge line, and his bucking and galloping were beyond simple fresh play. “Julio periodically appeared uncomfortable and didn’t finish his hay overnight,” says Rose.
Research led her to suspect a TMJ problem, but a subsequent visit by her regular vet yielded nothing. Radiographs taken by veterinarian Dr. Robyn Koala of Meadow Lane Equine Clinic, Surrey, BC, revealed that Julio had a radiopaque fragment in the middle of his right TMJ.
But the procedure did not reveal the location of the chip, although synovitis and articular cartilage damage was evident. Online research led her to Dr. Travis Smith’s thesis Osteoarthritis of the Equine TMJ.
On January 19, 2019, Rose loaded Julio into the trailer for the journey to CVM, Saskatoon, for a CT scan, tests, and full examination. The Mark and Pat DuMont Equine Orthopedics Research Fund awarded $50,000 to Car malt for a study focusing on the TMJ joints.
In addition, he received a graduate student stipend of $18,000 to support his research team’s work on the investigation of the impact of TMJ inflammation on equine performance. “All mammals have two TJS (one on each side of the head), allowing the mandible to be hung under the cranium,” says Car malt.
Causes might include horses eating out of raised hay racks, use of restrictive nose bands, improperly fitted saddles, a rider’s hard hands, faulty hoof care leading to improper gaits, or even lack of pasture grazing such as when a horse cannot naturally lower its head and eat off the ground. “In a panic-pull attempt to escape a ‘head caught between gate and post’ situation, my Thoroughbred-cross youngster sprained his TMJ, ” says Judy Todd, a physiotherapist in Abbotsford, BC.
The temporomandibular joint in humans connects the lower jaw, or mandible, to the temporal bone at the side of the head. You can feel the joint by placing your fingers just in front of your ears and opening and closing your mouth.
He points out that horses, as prey animals, do not always exhibit pain (to avoid signaling to predators that they are an easy target). If they have some discomfort, they will continue to eat normally by compensating and chewing on the other side of the mouth, thus reducing pressure on a painful joint.
Many of the discomfort signs horses display can often be attributed to other diseases, which need to be ruled out before focusing on the TMJ. Kim Rose (right) was invited into the operating room during Julio’s surgery, which lasted for several hours.
It is possible, but not confirmed, that some problems of this joint (such as cysts) are a type of developmental bone disease, like osteochondrosis, but we have no evidence for that yet.” “This is a thick fibrous band of tissue that allows two bone ends of differing shape to move over each other without damaging the cartilage or creating pain.
“We remove a small portion of normal cartilage from each of these four locations in horses that have been euthanized for reasons other than arthritis. The function of IRAQ is to block, or tie up, proteins called cytokines that cause inflammation.
It is a concentrate of plasma with white blood cells and enriched platelet growth factors. IRAQ II and Pro-Stride are regenerative, biological treatments that work by stimulating the body’s own immune systems.
Dr. James Car malt is a professor, Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan. The second goal is to assess the movement of appropriately trained horses on a treadmill using high quality kinematic cameras and markers.
“I travelled to Saskatoon to be onsite and had the honor of being invited into the operating room to see the extent of the disease, which was far worse than the CT or ultrasound revealed,” says Rose. They then put antibiotics, local anesthesia, and morphine into the joints after surgery to help with Julio’s discomfort.
“Fortunately for me, the woman from whom I purchased Julio (at the time on Vancouver Island) had moved to Saskatoon,” says Rose. So, I was able to wait while Dr. Car malt and his team practiced their approach multiple times on ‘cadavers’ and were ready to perform the surgery on a bona fide clinical case.
“Thirty to forty years ago, diseases of the equine neck and back were overlooked and not considered important,” he says. “Today, those same diseases and injuries are high on the differential diagnosis list of equine clinicians.
Hyaluronic acid is a substance naturally produced by the body and found in the skin and joints. It retains water to keep tissues and the space between joints lubricated and prevent bones from grinding against each other, causing pain.
We assume that the earlier it is diagnosed the easier it is to treat, but we don’t have any evidence to support this supposition.” In addition to behavioral issues, horses can provide more, if obscure, clues that the TMJ is amiss.
To gather information and find out what riders are experiencing and what veterinarians are seeing, Car malt invites you to contact him through his Facebook page. The goal of the page is to gather information and experience from owners, riders, trainers, and veterinarians to help build a more complete picture of this disease and its prevalence.
One of the big challenges in diagnosing TMD is that its symptoms can be so ambiguous, and many times are simply mistaken as poor performance. It is too often the site of last resort or missed altogether, resulting in hundreds of horses being unnecessarily retired or sadly euthanized.
Car malt is grateful for the grant funding to take his research further and gain insights into TMJ conditions. There is one in Germany focused on the microscopic level of the joint, one on the Pacific coast of the US looking at imaging, and their own group in Saskatoon.
The financial assistance generously given by the DuMont family will go a long way to uncovering the mysteries of TMJ and the disease that plagues the joints. Mark and Pat DuMont live on a farm near Langley, BC, and they have a key interest in equine musculoskeletal health.
Funds have helped to understand key health issues such as septic joint arthritis, caudal heel pain, and wound healing. “At some point it is expected that he may experience pain symptoms and will require further management of his TMJ disease.
I have been riding, training, and coaching for a very long time and always do my best to really ‘listen’ to the horses I have the pleasure of working with. “Julio’s past behavior, although sporadic, caused me to explore and research, resulting in my online discovery of Dr. Smythe’s thesis on equine TMJ disease and him subsequently putting me in touch with Dr. Car malt.