There are many different causes and pathways for altered joint function.
At the cellular level the horse’s body is in a constant dynamic balance between damage and repair, death and replacement. When this balance is disrupted in favor of death and damage, even temporarily from overdoing exercise, it triggers the release of cytokines.
Cytokines are small proteins which allow cells to “talk” to each other and directs their activity. For a long description, see http://www.oc.lm.ehu.es/Fundamentos/Doctorado/cursos/Regenera/Busqueda/citoquinas.htm. There are 45,161 entries to date in the cytokine encyclopedia associated with the above web site.
In most cases, production of cytokines is turned off in default mode. Their production begins in response to cell stress. In addition to directing clean up and repair processes, cytokines are an integral part of triggering protective responses. Some, such as one with the deceptively innocuous name BAMBI, react directly with nerve endings or neurochemicals. Others respond to reactive oxygen species (ROS)/oxidative stress and keep the reaction going.
Cytokines aren’t all bad. Once damage has been cleaned up by the immune system cytokines are important players in regrowth of blood vessels and cell regeneration.
The nervous system will reflexively act to protect areas by splinting muscles. Since horses don’t follow directions, this reflexive function is important in reducing the chance of further damage.
There are ways to work with the horse’s built-in homeostatic functions without interfering with them. For example, MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) helps maintain normal counterregulation of the cytokines TNF-alpha and IL-6 and supports antioxidant defenses.
Speaking of antioxidant support, you have many effective options there including bioflavanoids, vitamin C, low dose garlic, N-acetyl-cysteine, quercetin, lipoic acid and vitamin E as well as the herbals Turmeric, Boswellia, Ginger, Ginkgo and grape seed extract.
Harpagophytum procumbens (Devil’s Claw) offers powerful support against oxygen free radicals as well as cytokine TNF-alpha and IL-6 plus harmful prostaglandins. Devil’s Claw also has a direct nutrigenomic effect in maintaining normal activity of genes involved in TNF-alpha and COX-2 enzyme activity.
We hate to see restricted movement in our horses but it serves an important purpose. The trick is to recognize the source of the response and assist the body in returning to normal balance without interfering with healing. Targeted supplementation has a lot to offer in that battle.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD