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When a horse is injured with a blow or hard bump to a muscle, a contusion or bruise is often the result. Two kinds of contusions commonly occur: intermuscular, which is a tearing of a muscle within the sheath that surrounds it; and intramuscular, which is the tearing of both the muscle and sheath.

Intermuscular contusions are considered the most threatening because the initial bleeding and seepage of bodily fluids increases pressure within the muscle and sheath, creating pain and loss of function. When the contusion is intramuscular, blood and fluids can flow away from the site of the injury and be absorbed by surrounding tissue, leading to less pain and swelling.

In any case, the bruising under the skin is almost always followed by swelling because the underlying muscle fibers and connective tissues are crushed. Although the injury may not break the skin, the tissue damage can be significant, especially below the hock and knee because of the lack of padding to the ligaments, tendons, and bones and the possibility of debilitating injury.


  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Loss of function of the part of the body or limb that is affected


Contusions are caused by blunt trauma to the horse's head, body, or legs. When a horse takes a direct blow to a muscle, the underlying tissue and blood vessels are damaged or broken.

Bumping against something such as a fence or structure, bites and kicks from other horses, falls, collisions with other animals or objects, misjudged jumps, and many other situations can lead to contusions or bruises that can affect a horse's movements, ability to exercise, and present complications that might affect the overall health of the horse.


Although it is impossible to provide an environment where horses can never be injured, awareness of the seriousness of contusions can lead owners and handlers to take additional care in making barns, corrals, fences, pastures, trailers, and arenas as safe as possible.

Certainly, discipline of horses in their actions and interactions is important. Horses that bite, kick, or act in a rough manner, either singularly or in a group or herd situation, may need behavior modification to establish safe patterns of action. Providing a physically safe environment with all obstacles or unsafe areas brought up to a high standard of repair will help in preventing these kinds of injuries.


If a contusion is at all serious, a veterinarian should be called in to assess the injury and provide the best treatment possible. Treating the site of the contusion with either cold compresses, ice packs, or something as simple as "cold hosing" with the nearest garden hose will help ward off swelling and damage to the tissue. If the skin is intact, a cycle of applying a cold pack to a contusion for 5 minutes, then off for 15 minutes, will help minimize both pain and swelling.

If the injury is on one of the legs, it can be wrapped with a standing wrap to put pressure on the contusion and help keep the swelling down. In cases where a hematoma develops, the veterinarian may provide a tetanus booster and antibiotic therapy. The swelling in most contusions will subside within a few days, and as the swelling goes down, the pain will decrease.

If a contusion is not healed in 7 to 10 days, a veterinarian may want to drain the area, treat it with antibiotics, and either bandage it or keep careful watch to make sure it heals properly.

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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.