Timing for Joint Support
The health and function of joints is a complex compilation of the working loads for cartilage, ligaments, tendons, synovial fluid, bones, and the muscles that generate motion. While damage to any one of these tissue types can affect the total joint mobility and comfort of the horse in using the joint, the associated inflammation generated – either due to injury or overuse – is a major player for changes in joint health and function, both with acute and long-term joint issues. Chronic inflammation, in particular, is a major culprit in the degradation of cartilage and synovial fluid that leads to joint disease.
Further, some tissues – like cartilage, tendons, and ligaments – have very limited or negligible possibility of natural repair once damage has taken place, due to the nature of the tissues’ components (Bertone et al., 2005). Some success in repair of such tissues has been achieved with blood derived and stem cell therapies of late (Monteiro et al., 2015), but this is obviously an expensive, time consuming, and often very involved treatment plan for the average horse. Thus, the best plan is to prevent or reduce joint damage from occurring in the first place. This includes a comprehensive initiative for preventing excessive joint wear and tear through conscientious training programs, consistent quality hoof and shoeing care, attention to footing and bedding composition, diet formulation for appropriate body condition and demands of the horse’s sport, and observing closely for indicators of pain, stiffness, or changes in joint appearance and function and treating such issues early in their development.
A valuable tool to help improve joint function and indicators of joint health includes a joint supplement that addresses the health of multiple joint tissues and reduces inflammation. While all horses have the potential to benefit from a joint supplement that alleviates inflammation and protects joint tissues, supplementation is especially important for the horse in training who is at risk of joint injury or for horses who already have signs of joint damage. However, keep in mind that even the addition of high quality joint supplements to your horse’s joint health regime will take a few weeks to impact joint health in a noticeable way, which is why many oral joint supplements recommend a loading dose period of a few weeks to help build up levels of ingredients quicker. For horses at higher risk of joint damage or with known joint disease, staying on a joint supplement consistently throughout the year and regardless of training schedule may be the best way to consistently support joint health. If you have questions or concerns about steps you can take in management or diet to reduce joint damage, contact your Science Supplements nutritionist for advice.
Proven Oral Joint Supplements and Time to Effectiveness
After 21 days of supplementation, FlexAbility (Glucosamine HCl, Chondroitin Sulfate, MSM, Vitamin C, and marine Omega 3), was shown to reduce lameness grade, improve gait scores, and improve range of motion and muscle tone, and resulted in higher movement scores (Murray et al., 2017). Supplemental fatty acids have been shown to take 28 days to increase on synovial fluid levels, but was then effectively able to reduce cartilage degradation and increase cartilage regeneration (Bradbery et al., 2015). A proprietary anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory blend (mushrooms, yeast, melon concentrate, flaxseed, fish oil, and enzymes) has shown some evidence of decreased markers for skeletal muscle injury and decreased joint damage indicators after 23 days of supplementation (Lindinger et al., 2017). A proprietary blend of glucosamine and chondroitin called Actistatin showed steady improvements in pain, range of motion, lameness score, and flexion scores over 56 days and continued beneficial results throughout the rest of the 24 week trial (Montgomery, 2011). Another trial testing a combination of glucosamine and chondroitin on veteran horses found no effects at week 4 but did find positive effects by week 8, including increased elbow, stifle, and hind fetlock range of motion, and increased stride length and stride duration (Forsyth et al., 2006).
At times, a research trial design may not indicate the true duration until positive effects are seen, as it is commonplace that joint tests are not performed until a few weeks after treatments began, so it’s reasonable to assume some joint supplements may lead to positive effects sooner than research trials measured the effectiveness. On the other hand, some studies have shown that it took as much as 90 days to have significant effects from joint supplement and/or fatty acid administration (Carden et al., 2013; Ross-Jones et al., 2014), but this could be related to the level of ingredients provided and/or bioavailability of ingredients. More extensive time periods like this may be a factor of low bioavailability of the ingredients, low doses of the ingredients, and/or ineffective ingredients, so be sure to seek out a joint supplement with data showing not only effective results but also results within a reasonable time period of a few weeks.
Injectable Joint Treatments
Injectable treatments – such as Adequan and Legend – are generally only prescribed for horses with known joint disease signs, and a benefit is that injections may be able to support joint health more quickly than reported findings for oral supplements (Gaustad and Larsen, 1995; Kannegeiter, 2000), as little “build up” time is needed like with oral supplement use. Though injectable treatments have the potential for more rapid uptake in joint tissues, it will still take days to weeks for the joint tissues to notably respond to treatment, and the primary effects are still reducing inflammation and preventing further joint damage – because like oral supplements, injectables are still not able to help cartilage tissue truly repair (Kannegeiter, 2000).
Due to the nature of horses’ joints (under substantial stress and constant use with high impact and demands of training) in combination with the low healing capacity of joint tissues once an injury occurs, the inclusion of a high quality, proven effective joint supplement is warranted as a complementary component of a comprehensive joint health plan. Further, because supplements are most effective at helping prevent joint damage and it may take at least a few weeks for joint support ingredients to result in noticeable, positive changes in joint function, supplementation should begin prior to engaging in high risk joint activities – like training, showing, and working events – in order to aid in the prevention of joint inflammation and disease.
Bertone AL, Bramlage LR, Mcllwraith CW, Malemud CJ. Comparison of proteoglycan and collagen in articular cartilage of horses with naturally developing osteochondrosis and healing osteochondral fragments of experimentally induced fractures. American Journal of Veterinary Research. 2005;66:1881-1890
Bradbery AN, Coverdale JA, Vernon KL, Leatherwood JL, Arnold CE, Dabareiner RA, Kahn MK, Millican AA, Welsh TH, Smith SB. Evaluation of conjugated linoleic acid supplementation on markers of joint inflammation and cartilage metabolism in young horses challenged with lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 2015;35(5):403
Carden AN, Duberstein JK, Turner KK. Effects of oral glucosamine sulfate supplementation on gait parameters and blood oxidative status in the aged horse. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 2013;33(5):322-323
de Clifford LT, Lowe JN, McKellar CD, Bolwell C, Davide F. Use of a 2.5% Cross-Linked Polyacrylamide Hydrogel in the Management of Joint Lameness in a Population of Flat Racing Thoroughbreds: A Pilot Study. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 2019;77:57-62
Forsyth RK, Brigden CV, Northrop AJ. Double blind investigation of the effects of oral supplementation of combined glucosamine hydrochloride (GHCL) and chondroitin sulphate (CS) on stride characteristics of veteran horses. Proceedings of the 7th International Conference of Equine Exercise Physiology. 2006;38(S36):622-625
Gaustad G, Larsen S. Comparison of polysulphated glycosaminoglycan and sodium hyaluronate with placebo in treatment of traumatic arthritis in horses. Equine Veterinary Journal. 1995;27(5):356-362
Kannegeiter N. A Review of the use of Adequan, Cartrophen and Pentosan Equine in the Horse. Australian Equine Veterinarian. 2000;18(1):29-38
Lindinger ML, MacNicola JM, Karrow N, Pearson W. Effects of a Novel Dietary Supplement on Indices of Muscle Injury and Articular GAG Release in Horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 2017;48:52-60
McClure SR, Wang C. A Preliminary Field Trial Evaluating the Efficacy of 4% Polyacrylamide Hydrogel in Horses With Osteoarthritis. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 2017;54:98-102
Montgomery M. Evaluation of the Safety and Efficacy of the Dietary Supplement Actistatin (R) on Established Glucosamine and Chondroitin Therapy in the Horse. The Journal of Applied Research in Veterinary Medicine. 2011;9(2):101-119
Monteiro SO, Bettencourt EV, Lepage OM. Biologic Strategies for Intra-articular Treatment and Cartilage Repair. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 2015;35(3):175-190
Murray RC, Walker VA, Tranquille CA, Spear J, Adams V. A Randomized Blinded Crossover Clinical Trial to Determine the Effect of an Oral Joint Supplement on Equine Limb Kinematics, Orthopedic, Physiotherapy, and Handler Evaluation Scores. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 2017;50:121-128
Ross-Jones T, Hess T, Rexford J, Ahrens N, Engle T, Hansen DK. Effects of Omega-3 Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Supplementation on Equine Synovial Fluid Fatty Acid Composition and Prostaglandin E2. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 2014;34(6):779-783