Stem cell therapy is at the forefront of the modern approach to treating injured tendons and ligaments in horses. Stem cells have the ability to change their function and become numerous different types of cells. Equine tendon injuries normally heal very slowly by producing scar tissue, which, while strong enough to allow some activity, is mechanically very different from a normal tendon. By using stem cells, we can improve the quality of healing by providing cells that have the ability to recreate normal tendon tissue, rather than scar tissue.
The first step is to extract the stem cells from a sample of the horse's bone marrow. This is normally taken from the sternum, (chest) under sedation and local anaesthesia. The stem cells are then cultured and separated from the other cells within the bone marrow. After a period of 2-3 weeks they are then re-suspended in fluid from the bone marrow sample and are now ready to be injected back into the injury site of the horse.
Probably the most important stage in the whole process is the rehabilitation and return to exercise program that follows the treatment. Your vet will provide you with detailed instructions that must be strictly adhered to. Rehabilitation programs can range in length from 24 weeks for check ligament and mild suspensory injuries, to 36 for severe suspensory damage, up 48 weeks for flexor tendon injuries. For the most part, these programs begin with a 12 week period of box rest with controlled walking in hand, after which time they can be ridden again and light trot work commenced. Ultrasound scans are performed at regular intervals to monitor the healing process.