07/17/2008 11:00PM

Many ways to treat equine injury

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The veterinarian Dr. Eleanor Green is one of those important people in the Thoroughbred industry that most have never heard of. To put it succinctly, this Floridian has likely to have been there and done that in the universe of veterinary medicine. Currently, Green is chair of the Department of Large Animal Clinical Science at the University of Florida in Gainseville. She is the chief of a staff that numbers 50 veterinarians and 100 support members. But her job description does not end in Gainesville, for Green is also the president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

Equine veterinary medicine has made significant strides recent years. Most of the time the public is unaware this progress – until there is a Barbaro-like incident. Green wants the public to know and appreciate what’s happening in veterinary medicine in general and at the University of Florida in particular.

Battling lameness

Among the many services that the University of Florida’s Veterinary Medical Center deals with is equine lameness and imaging. The veterinarian Dr. Matt Brokken is an alumnus of the university’s veterinary program. After graduation he served his residency at Washington State University where he specialized in sports medicine and equine medicine. Earlier this year Brokken returned to Gainesville as head of the diagnostic department.

The department offers the latest technology involving magnetic resonance imaging.

“Our patients have magnetic resonance imaging comparable to what’s available to human patients,” Green said.

MRI is an increasingly important diagnostic tool for determining specific causes of lameness in racehorses.

In addition to MRI the medical center has state-of-the-technology diagnostic tools such as nuclear scintigraphy, digital radiography and ultrasonography. In Brokken’s words: “Our expertise with the MRI is second to none, and while we have the only high-field strength magnet in Florida, there is an upgrade on the way and expected to arrive within the year.”

Acupuncture therapy

Acupuncture is one of medicine’s oldest therapies. It is also considered by some to be a controversial therapy. It involves the insertion of a thin, sterile needle into specific body point to create a desirable therapeutic effect. Chinese medicine – where acupuncture started and developed – has determined that there are 361 points located throughout the body that involve pathways to functions and remedies. Some of the problems that respond to acupuncture are vertebrae problems, skin disease, behavioral disorders, non-sweating, respiratory problems, stomach disorders, and certain types of infertility.

The two acupuncture residents at the center are the veterinarians Dr. Huisheng Xie and Dr. Carolina Ortiz-Umpierre. Dr. Xie is a graduate of Sichuan College of Animal Science and Veterinary Medicine in China, and he received his Ph.D from the Florida medical center in 1998. Ortiz-Umpierre comes from St. George’s University College of Veterinary Medicine in the Caribbean country of Grenada; she completed her internship at the center in 2006.

Acupuncture therapy is not limited to the center’s facilities. Put another way, the doctors do make house calls to nearby farms and training facilities.

New treatment for joint disease

The veterinarians Dr. Amanda House and Dr. Alison Morton specialize in degenerative diseases at the center. Osteoarthritis is the bane of the backstretch, as it is the most common cause of lameness in a racehorse. It can be brought about by a variety of problems. These problems include wear and tear, age, disease, conformation leading to trauma, and a host of related factors.

Conventional cures/therapies include rest, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Bute, Banamine and Equioxx.

From Germany and with much promise as a therapy for degenerative joint disease comes Interleukin-1 Receptor Antagonist Protein, also known as IRAP. An anti-inflammatory protein, it is being recommended for use in treating synovitis, that is progressive cartilage damage within the joint. Studies show that IRAP is effective in treating many kinds of lameness as well as joint swelling. It should be noted, cautions the center staff, that IRAP should not be considered a cure, but it is effective in the treatment and control of such problems.

These are but some of the therapies and procedures available to Florida’s horse community.