Endoscopic surgery in the treatment of contaminated and infected synovial cavities

Equine Vet J. 2003 Sep;35(6):613-9. doi: 10.2746/042516403775467225.


Reasons for performing study: Contamination and infection of synovial cavities are a common occurrence in clinical practice and, if inadequately treated, may have career or life threatening consequences for affected horses.

Hypothesis: The objectives in treating contamination and infection of joints, tendon sheaths and bursae are most effectively met by endoscopic surgery.

Methods: Over a 6 year period, cases of synovial contamination and infection admitted to a referral clinic were evaluated and treated endoscopically. The horses received local and systemic antimicrobial drugs with minimal nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication but no other medical or surgical treatment. All arthroscope and instrument portals and, whenever possible, all traumatic wounds were closed. Diagnostic information, endoscopic observations and results of treatment were evaluated retrospectively.

Results: A total of 140 affected animals were referred and 121 cases were treated endoscopically. These involved 70 joints, 29 tendon sheaths, 10 bursae and in 12 cases a combination of synovial cavities. The most common aetiologies were open wounds (n = 54) and self-sealing punctures (n = 41). Foreign material was identified endoscopically in 41 but predicted prior to surgery in only 6 cases. Osteochondral lesions were evident at surgery in 51 and recognised before surgery in 25 cases; 32 horses had intrathecal tendon or ligament defects. Follow-up information was obtained for 118 animals; 106 (90%) survived and 96 (81%) returned to their preoperative level of performance. The presence of osteitis/osteomyelitis, other osteochondral lesions and marked deposits of pannus were associated with nonsurvival. For those animals which survived, non-Thoroughbred horses, a combination of synovial structure involvement and regional i.v. antimicrobial administration were associated with reduced post operative performance. Marked pannus, regional i.v. antimicrobial administration and duration of systemic antimicrobial administration were associated with a group combining nonsurviving animals and those with reduced post operative performance.

Conclusions: Endoscopic surgery makes a valuable contribution to the management of synovial contamination and infection.

Potential relevance: The information obtained from and therapeutic options offered by endoscopy justify its early use in cases of synovial contamination and infection.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Arthroscopy / methods
  • Arthroscopy / veterinary*
  • Debridement / veterinary
  • Female
  • Horse Diseases / drug therapy
  • Horse Diseases / pathology
  • Horse Diseases / surgery*
  • Horses
  • Male
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Synovectomy
  • Synovial Fluid / microbiology
  • Synovial Membrane / pathology*
  • Synovitis / drug therapy
  • Synovitis / surgery
  • Synovitis / veterinary*
  • Tendinopathy / pathology
  • Tendinopathy / surgery
  • Tendinopathy / veterinary
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents