Research into Fracture Prevention Advances

Horses are not much different to human athletes when it comes to exertion on their bodies and continuous strain on their bone structures. This makes the legs of horses the most vulnerable part of their bodies. Often fractures seem to appear from nowhere, causing horses an excessive amount of pain and discomfort, which leads to rest and layoffs from training and exercise routines. But a group of researchers are hoping that their hard work and dedication to the prevention of fractures will not only assist horses and the horse racing industry, but athletes, military personnel and other animals that run the same risks.

The research is a joint effort by staff members of the Purdue Research Foundation and the University of Toledo. Key members of the team, such as Ozan Akkus (Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Weldon School) and Stephen Adams (Professor at Purdue School of Veterinary Medicine and veterinarian specializing in surgery and equine lameness), have produced a system of fracture detection that is now in its testing stages.

By using similar technology to that used by seismologists to monitor earthquakes and seismic activity, researchers have created a device that uses a higher frequency and that monitors bones on a microscopic scale to pick up cracks a tenth of a millimeter in size and that cannot be detected by x-ray. These small and seemingly insignificant cracks eventually lead to hairline fractures and more serious fractures if enduring exertion regularly. If small cracks can be detected in advance, horses can take off shorter periods to heal before the crack becomes a serious fracture. Tiny cracks are often so small that they don’t cause pain, so owners and trainers are unaware of the looming danger to their horses.

By using sound waves to monitor bone fissures, in the same way bridge integrity is monitored, micro cracks can be located by sound waves. When small fractures occur, specialized cells start to repair the damaged bone by removing the damaged tissue and repairing the bone, filling the cavity with new, stronger bone. If stress is put on the bone during the repair process, it could lead to more severe cracks, and because it is the accumulation of undetected small cracks over a period of time that leads to severe breakdowns, it is vital to find a monitoring system that will be able to assist in the prevention of fractures. If the technology is able to assist the horses in the horse racing industry, it will be able to help other animals and to detect fractures in humans who take part in vigorous training, such as military personnel and athletes. Both Akkus and Adams are confident that their monitoring system will be able to locate different types of cracks and become a significant tool in the care for horses and humans.