by Dr. Hiltrud Strasser

More than 15 years of research and experience with the treatment of navicular disease have revealed that pressure on the navicular region, as a result of excessively long bars and heels, leads to a painful inflammation of the corium adjacent to the navicular bone and, therefore, clinical lameness. The enlarged cavities in the navicular bone, demonstrable by X-ray diagnosis, are not painful and therefore are not related to clinical lameness. They are the result of congestion of the digital arteries caused by an unphysiological position of the navicular bone as a result of high heels and bars.

In the last 3 years, the course and healing of navicular syndrome was documented on 53 horses of various breeds.

The shoes were removed, the living conditions of the horse changed to more closely approximate the natural amount of movement of a horse each day, and the shape of the hoof capsule was, over the course of months, returned (close) to its natural form through proper trimming. Depending on the length of time the problem had been in existence, and how far living conditions could be optimized, the return to full use of a horse diagnosed with "podotrochlosis" can take a few weeks to nine months.

In the course of several decades of observations, it was found that, through the pressure of blood vessels congested by the contraction of the hoof through shoeing, bone mass is reduced. This means that the passageways of blood vessels in the navicular bone and coffin bone, in a shod horse or one with contracted heels (no circulatory pump in the hoof capsule), are significantly enlarged when compared to a horse with a sound foot and proper movement.

When a horse goes lame, more and more often X-rays are taken to aid in diagnosis. When enlarged foraminae nutritiae are detected in the navicular bone, navicular syndrome is usually the diagnosis.

The size and shape of these cavities varies in all horses. These variations are attributed to a number of causes, from age to immunological deficiencies. However, more recent studies have proven that there exists no direct relationship between the shape of the cavities and clinical lameness.

However, what is proven 100% of the time is that "navicular" horses ALL have long, underslung heels and bars which contact the ground (or shoe) even when non-weighbearing. This causes a lever action into the sole and results in bruising and tearing in the area of the bars under the navicular bone. To escape the pain, the horse tries to put less pressure on the heeL and therefore more on the toe; the angle between the coffim bone and middle phalanx decreases, causing the navicular bone to close off the Aa. digitales. This results in congestion above this point and enlargement of arteries.

Lameness disappears after elimination of this hoof form and restoration of the natural, flat shape. No relapse has ever been noted.
This leads to the conclusion that the so-called "navicular syndrome" has its cause in an unnatural hoof form, more specifically in excessively long heels and bars, which put pressure into the navicular region and cause inflammation (pain) of the corium in this area. Since, below the region of congestion, blood flow and therefore nerve action is reduced, at first there is little or no pain with this situation. Only after increased inflammation, which returns blood to the affected area, is lameness noted.

The belief that steep hooves are proper (perhaps caused by the mistaken idea that they relieve the flexor tendons) therefore causes many cases of navicular. It is not navicular syndrome which is hereditary, but ignorance of the proper hoof shape.

Copyright Dr. vet. med. H. Strasser
Blaihofstr. 42/1, 72074 Tuebingen, Germany
Tel/Fax: (011) 49-7071-87572
Ed. & Canadian contact: Sabine Kells at email: textorder @

©2006 by The Horse's Hoof. All rights reserved. No part of these publications may be reproduced by any means whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher and/or authors. The information contained within these articles is intended for educational purposes only, and not for diagnosing or medicinally prescribing in any way. Readers are cautioned to seek expert advice from a qualified health professional before pursuing any form of treatment on their animals. Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.

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