New research has shown that the use of standing sedation to repair lower limb fractures in racehorses produces similar results to surgery performed under a general anaesthetic, but with the advantages of less surgical complexity, time, cost and risk.

Standing fracture repair in the horse is a relatively new surgical procedure with very little follow-up data available. The study Short and long term results following standing fracture repair in 34 horses was conducted by Richard Payne and Polly Compston at Rossdales Equine Hospital and has recently been published in the Equine Veterinary Journal (EVJ)1.

Treatable fractures sustained by racehorses in the UK have traditionally been repaired under general anaesthesia but it is well known that this carries an increased risk of anaesthetic-related death compared with other elective surgical procedures. However, despite the substantial increase in the number and type of surgical procedures performed under standing sedation over the past decade there has previously been very little work undertaken on standing fracture repairs.

The study looked at the case records of 34 Thoroughbred and Arab racehorses that had a lower limb fracture surgically repaired by one surgeon at Rossdales up until June 2011. The injuries included non-displaced fractures of the proximal phalanx, the third metacarpal bone and the third metatarsal bone, all of which are relatively common fracture sites in racehorses. Hospital records, owner and trainer telephone questionnaires and website research were used to evaluate follow-up. The short and long-term results were similar to those of horses undergoing repair of comparable fracture configurations under general anaesthesia, with 20 of the horses returning to racing within an average of 226 days.

This early research indicates potential for tangible benefits, including avoidance of the inherent risks of general anaesthesia as well as a reduction in surgical complexity and associated costs, leading the way for future research into larger cohorts of horses.

EVJ's Editor Celia Marr said "The recent fatalities at the Grand National highlight that it is critical that the equine veterinary research community strives to reduce the prevalence of fractures in our racehorses. We also need to continue to seek better ways of treating those horses that do develop fractures and, while not every fracture will be amenable to this approach, this study is an important first step towards treating some of the non-displaced fractures that occur in racehorses without the need for anaesthesia."

1Short and long term results following standing fracture repair in 34 horses Richard Payne and Polly Compston, Equine Veterinary Journal ISSN 0425-1644 DOI: 10.1111/j.2042-3306.2012.00569.x