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Corticosteroid Treatment for RacehorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · December 20, 2012

Corticosteroids are often used to treat the injured joints or tendons of racehorses because the anti-inflammatory action relieves pain and supports healing.

A study in Australia showed that one in five of almost 2,000 Thoroughbred racehorses in a study group had received a corticosteroid injection. Horses that had received an injection were five times as likely as nontreated horses to suffer a major musculoskeletal injury requiring at least six months of recovery. Also, horses receiving more than one injection were twice as likely to sustain such an injury as horses receiving only one injection.

Readers of this report might be tempted to conclude that treatment with corticosteroids makes a horse more susceptible to serious injury. However, it is likely that the treated horses, all of which had been previously injured, were already at a higher than normal risk because of training methods, overuse, musculoskeletal weakness, or some other factor. Horses needing more than one corticosteroid injection might have had more severe initial injuries or been returned to training before healing was complete, thus putting them in increased danger of future injury.

It is difficult to draw a firm conclusion from the results of this study, and more work is needed to determine the connection, if any, between racehorse injuries and corticosteroid  treatment. If more research shows that corticosteroid by itself does increase the risk of subsequent injury in horses, other options may have to be used for the treatment of musculoskeletal injuries in horses.