Diseases and conditions image
Diseases and conditions image EquiMed

Also Known As

Whirlbone lameness


Bursitis results when a bursa becomes inflamed and the resulting swelling and stiffness create pain and limit movement of the horse's limbs. Bursa are closed sacs of fluid, lined by a membrane that secretes a lubricating fluid. They are located at strategic points between joints where they act as cushions to prevent friction as the horse's limbs move.

Septic bursitis occurs when the bursa becomes infected with bacteria which sometimes occurs in areas such as the navicular area which is susceptible to becoming infected when the frog of the foot is injured.

Trauma to a bursa may be due to a blow or mechanical stress of exercise. When the bursa is severely affected, lameness develops. If stress continues over time, the bursa may become thickened and scarred, resulting in chronic bursitis. The shoulders, hips, hock joints, elbows, and knees of the horse are susceptible to development of bursitis.


  • Swelling in area of bursa
  • Stiffness
  • Limited motion
  • Limping
  • Lameness
  • Displacement of weight


Bursitis may be caused by trauma to the bursa either from a direct blow or through stress brought on by exercise. In the case of septic bursitis, the bursa becomes infected with bacteria from a wound that allows the bacteria to gain access to the bursa. .


Preventing bursitis is dependent on good horse management to prevent injuries and, also, to detect the beginnings of bursitis as early as possible. Attention should be given to make sure that exercise and work activities take into consideration the condition, age, and capabilities of the horse, to prevent damage to bursa because of trauma due to hard use.


Treatment depends on the site of the injured or infected bursa and the extent of the damage. The services of a veterinarian who can diagnose and prescribe treatment is very helpful in determining proper treatment and a time table for continued work or exercise.

Rest and anti-inflammatory drugs such as Butazolidin are prescribed to help to relieve pain and swelling. Injections of cortisone into the bursa are often beneficial.

In addition, corrective or proper shoeing will help relieve stress on the area and prevent further damage. In some cases, surgery and/or aspiration and cleansing out of the fluid sac is needed, and it may be necessary to drain the bursa and remove inflamed synovium membrane in addition to injecting the bursa with a corticosteroid. Depending on the area, a bandage to protect and keep the area clean may be necessary.

Dig Deeper

This section contains articles specially selected by EquiMed staff for visitors wanting more information about this disease or condition. These articles are copyrighted by their respective owners and are available to you courtesy of EquiMed

About the Author

EquiMed Staff

EquiMed staff writers team up to provide articles that require periodic updates based on evolving methods of equine healthcare. Compendia articles, core healthcare topics and more are written and updated as a group effort. Our review process includes an important veterinarian review, helping to assure the content is consistent with the latest understanding from a medical professional.