Capped Elbows - Capped Hocks

Also Known As

Calcaneal bursitis, Inflamed and/or swollen bursa, Olecranon bursitis


Capped elbow and capped hock are inflammatory swellings of the subcutaneous bursa overlying the point of the elbow or the point of the hock. The word capped refers to the swollen, distended appearance that these areas take on following trauma. Iron shoes projecting beyond the heels, lying on poorly bedded hard floors, riding the tailgate of trailers, or prolonged recumbency, along with kicks and falls, are the most frequent causes of capped elbow and capped hock.

Lameness is rare, but in a short time a firm fibrous capsule forms, especially if there is a recurrence of an old injury. These contusions are often referred to as hygromas. The point of the hock and the top of the elbow are similar in that they have a synovial bursa, a sac lined by synovial or joint-like tissue under the skin.

This fluid sac reduces the pressure on the tendon as it moves across the bones and helps to keep the tendon from being traumatized by repeated flexing and extending of the hock or elbow joint. While a simple swelling will eventually go down, repetitive injury or a puncture wound to the bursa will frequently result in serious infection that can present difficulties in the recovery process.


  • Observable contusions
  • Swelling over and around the bursa
  • A hot area that is tender to the touch
  • Occasional lameness


Capped elbow, capped hock, shoe boil, and olecranon bursitis are usually caused when the heel of the foot hits the point of the elbow or hock while the horse is lying down. Occasionally, the foot strikes the elbow in gaited horses while the horse is in motion.

Trauma from lying on hard floors, riding the tailgate of the trailer, and prolonged recumbency may also lead to injuries when the horse's shoed hoof or other hard object comes in contact with the elbow or the hock of the horse.


When transporting horses in an enclosed trailer, be sure to use padded leg wraps. Review the horse's shoeing to ensure that it is proper and also apply a large doughnut-looking roll to the pastern to prevent trauma to the region of the elbow.

When a horse lies down, the horse's foot and shoe often come into contact with the elbow as the horse curls its leg up under itself. Repeated injuries resulting in a swollen irritated area are also known as a shoe boil because of the swelling and inflammation.

If the injuries occur because the horse kicks the stall walls or other hard materials, causing capped hock, behavioral modification offers the best hope of permanently resolving the problem.


When a handler first notices contusions, the first course of action is to eliminate the known causes of the trauma by reviewing the horse's shoeing and providing padded leg wraps and pads to the pastern to diminish the chances of injuries. Trailers and stalls may need to be modified to limit the chances of contact with surfaces that can cause trauma to the horse's elbow or hock.

Cold hydrotherapy works well in reducing the swelling and relieving any pain. Treatment with CMSA and steroid injections directly into the affected bursa can also reduce the swelling of the sac, but this should be done by a veterinarian to reduce chances of infection.

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