Navicular Syndrome

Navicular Syndrome is a poorly understood condition of the foot. What is clear is that your horse has pain in his foot, usually in both forefeet. The pain is centered in the heel area.

There are many theories as to the cause of this disorder. Most imply a problem with blood flow or clots, but some theorize an irregularity in the navicular bursa, a small fluid-filled sac that surrounds the coffin joint. Check out an anatomy chart for details. We have an excellent laminated wall chart devoted to the anatomy of Navicular Syndrome.

How can you tell if his lameness is from Navicular Syndrome? The afflicted horse may “point” when standing. “Pointing” is a forefoot position characterized by one foot unweighted and placed foreword of the other. Since Navicular usually appears in both feet, the animal will alternate the “pointed” foot. Horses with NAV have also been seen to pile up bedding material under their heels. Since the problem is deep in the heel of the foot, hoof testers may not elicit any response.

You might notice another characteristic in his stride. The horse shortens his stride so that he can put his foot down to toe first and minimize the impact on his heels. He may be described as “Footy”. When moving in a circle, he’ll tend to be lamer on the inside foot, and lameness will be more pronounced when working on harder surfaces. The practice of placing a foot down toe first tends to cause frequent stumbling as well.

Generally, a horse with the navicular syndrome will be down in the heels with a markedly elongated toe. But the problem is also found in horses with small, upright hooves. Indeed, American Quarter Horses seem to be affected to an inordinate degree and may even be said to be pre-disposed to the condition.

What can you do? If you suspect that your horse suffers from Navicular Syndrome, first check with your vet. X-rays may be able to confirm the diagnosis, but not all horses with this condition show irregularities under x-rays. Of course, you can almost certainly rule out fractures this way.

There is no conclusive single therapy to resolve Navicular Syndrome. Some authorities imply that proper trimming of the feet over a period of time and corrective shoes can solve the problem. Trim to shorten the toe and prompt the heel to expand and corrective shoes provide stability to the heel, promote its expansion, and protect it from impact.

Others recommend drugs. Phenylbutazone (Bute) is often recommended as a pain killer and anti-inflammatory. Sometimes blood-thinners like Warfarin are prescribed, but they are generally on the risky side since they lower the blood’s clotting abilities and can be subject to the laws of unintended consequences, which is to say that the horse may bleed like a stuck pig if he cuts himself.

Since many theories indicate that impeding blood flow is a cause of the problem, doesn’t it make sense that therapies aiding blood flow will help it? A recent study at The University of Sydney has shown that Hydrotherapy helped in two out of three cases. Exercise always aids circulation in the foot, and your vet will most likely recommend an appropriate level of exercise.

Pulsed LED or LEPT Therapy

Pulsed LED or LEPT Therapy is also a successful treatment and will increase circulation to the affected area. We use and sell systems from Sumerel Therapeutic Systems. The STS-2 system includes a scanner and a treatment device. The scanner allows you to locate the exact center of the problem and enables to you treat it with pinpoint accuracy.

This technology was pioneered and patented by CEFCO Electronics in the early 1980s and is widely used by veterinarians in the US, Europe, and Australia. Pulsed LEDs have also been studied and used by NASA and The US Military to speed wound healing. LEPT has been the subject of countless published research studies by organizations such as the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Mayo Clinic. We have seen innumerable success stories from average horse owners, Veterinarians, rodeo riders, jockeys and show stars.

Acupuncture and Acupressure

Acupuncture and Acupressure have also been used extensively and successfully to treat Navicular Syndrome. In this type of treatment, which has been used for thousands of years, specific points on the animal’s body are stimulated by various means. These may include manual pressure, electrical stimulation, LED Therapy, and the traditional dry needles. A key concern is to be sure that your therapist is properly certified, since she may be planning to stick those needles into your horse.

Finally, there are surgical options, but they are obviously costly and invasive. According to Veterinary Notes for Horse Owners, two procedures have been used: Neurectomy and Desmotomy.


In a Neurectomy, two small pieces of the nerve are removed, the idea being, no nerve, no pain. There are a number of problems arising from this surgery. First, the nerve may regenerate and the pain returns. Neuromas, painful swellings at the point of the cut, may appear, and the deep digital flexor tendon may necrotize and rupture – clearly something to avoid.


Desmotomy means to simply cut the ligaments that suspend the navicular bone. This can be a short-term solution if the condition has only been in evidence for a matter of months. In the long term, the results are apparently not as good. We’re told that the ligaments tend to reconnect though and there do not seem to be any long-term ill effects except to your wallet.

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