Diagnosing windgalls is typically not difficult for your vet. Windgall swellings occur directly above the fetlock on the inside and outside of the tendon sheath. Windgalls can affect either or both of a horse’s front or hind legs. In some cases, all four limbs will be affected. You may notice heat in the area of the swelling, and the horse may be uncomfortable to palpation, but both of these symptoms are quite rare, and should probably prompt further investigation.
Based on the physical examination and your history of the development of the swelling, your vet will decide whether or not further tests are necessary. These tests may include ultrasound, X-ray or tenoscopy to get a better view of the area. If your horse is lame or there is heat of discomfort, further tests to rule out other more sinister injuries are almost certain to be required.
IMPORTANT: If you notice a new swelling around your horse’s joint you must call your vet immediately, even if you suspect it to be a windgall. Your vet is best placed to make the call on whether or not a swelling is serious and needs attention or if it can be managed more conservatively.
Treatment of windgalls requires the formation of a treatment plan with your vet.
Often just modifying your horse’s work level and training regimen can help to reduce the irritation and inflammation that led to the windgalls in the first place. Ice and bandaging are also considered beneficial. Anti-inflammatories and ultrasound therapy may also be recommended to help deal with the issue.
Injections of hyaluronic acid are sometimes considered as it is believed that they normalise the environment within and around the tendon sheath, leading to a reduction in fluid levels.
For mostly cosmetic purposes, some owners may opt to have the swellings drained and the area injected with a corticosteroid to reduce the chance of future inflammation developing.
However, even with the best treatment, it is worth noting that once windgalls occur they tend to come back when activity levels increase again.
NOTE: If your horse presents with lameness and swelling, it is unlikely that your vet will be happy with a simple diagnosis of windgalls. It is important to remember that any tendon damage or serious damage to the joint capsule will also result in swellings in this region, and most likely, lameness. As lameness and heat are not commonly associated with windgalls, expect your vet to do a thorough workup in these situations to rule out more serious injury.