In all cases of musculoskeletal pain and lameness, diagnostic procedures to determine the nature, extent, and exact location of the injury must be performed. Evaluation of the source of pain and lameness always starts with a thorough history and physical examination to look for sources of heat, swelling, and pain on manual palpation. Next, the gait and locomotion of the animal is evaluated. In a weight-bearing lameness, the lame leg always bears less weight and often has a shorter duration of bearing weight. In swinging leg lameness, the lame leg abducts or adducts to avoid flexion of a painful joint. These findings can be measured objectively using a force plate or a gait analysis system. After determining which limb is lame, diagnostic analgesia (intra-articular or perineural) can be used to localize the painful gait to an exact region of the affected limb. Following localization, diagnostic imaging techniques can be performed to evaluate the soft tissue structures and bones. These diagnostic procedures include radiography, ultrasound, MRI, CT, and if necessary synovial fluid samples. Following these procedures, a diagnosis can be made and treatment of the disease is instituted. Finally a prognosis can be given based on the diagnosis, extent of the disease, and expected response to therapy.
The diagnostic and therapeutic options for management of musculoskeletal disorders have greatly expanded during the last few years and allow a return to a useful life for most animals if done early in the disease process.
Last full review/revision March 2012 by Allison A. Stewart, DVM, MS, DACVS