Characterization of bony changes localized to the cervical articular processes in a mixed population of horses.
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The objectives of this observational, cross-sectional study were to characterize and establish the prevalence of osseous proliferation of articular surfaces, joint margins and adjacent soft tissue attachments (i.e., joint capsule and deep spinal muscles) in a mixed population of horses of variable ages, sizes, and breeds to better capture the full spectrum of disease affecting the cervical articular processes. Cranial and caudal articular processes of the cervical and first three thoracic vertebrae (C2-T3) from 55 horses without a primary complaint of neck pain were evaluated for the presence and severity of abnormal bony changes. Data were analyzed to compare alterations in joint margin quadrants, paired articular surfaces within a synovial articulation, left-right laterality, and vertebral level distributions and to determine associations with age, wither height and sex. Seventy-two percent of articular processes had bony changes that were considered abnormal. Osteophyte formation was the most common bony change noted. Overall grades of severity included: normal (28%), mild (45%), moderate (22%), and severe (5%). The highest prevalence of mild changes was localized to the C3-C6 vertebral levels; moderate changes to C6-T2; and severe changes to C2-C3 and C6-T2. Most paired articular surfaces and left-right grades of severity were not significantly different. The grade of osseous pathology was positively associated with both age and wither height. A high prevalence and wide variety of abnormal bony changes of varying severity were found in articular processes across all vertebral levels. The clinical significance of the described lesions is unknown, but the findings are expected to enhance the reporting of articular process and periarticular changes noted on advanced diagnostic imaging of the equine cervical and cranial thoracic vertebral regions.