Bovine musculoskeletal disorders

Tendon and ligament issues

Flexor tendon lacerations

Unfortunately flexor tendon lacerations are common and are generally caused by interactions with farm machinery.  If the fetlock is dropped, the superficial digital flexor  tendon is damaged. If the toe is tipped up, it is a deep digital flexor laceration.

Damage to both superficial and deep flexor tendons


Debride and cast or debride and splint. Half limb casts are adequate for lacerations below the hock.  Suturing the tendon doesn’t really help healing. The outcome can be good but healing takes 10-12 weeks for stable fibrous union.

If it is just the tendon to one digit, placing a block on other digit may be sufficient.

If it is the gastrocnemius tendon, suture repair and full limb cast is required. See below.


Fair. Better if the tendon sheath is not involved.  Healing within the tendon sheath is less effective.

Gastrocnemius tendon lacerations

Gastrocnemius tendon lacerations or ruptures are are bad. The hock will drop- when animals attempt to bear weight on the limb. Treatment is placement of a Schroeder-Thomas splint but it is often unsuccessful except in very lightweight animals


Dr. Trent with goat with dropped hock due to gastrocnemius rupture

Extensor tendon lacerations

These have a good prognosis. Initially the animal cannot advance the leg well but this resolves rapidly.

Cruciate injuries

Cruciate injuries are bad. These are most commonly seen in heavy post-parturient cattle with milk fever. Due to muscle weakness, they have difficulty standing and fall. Mild to moderate lameness with joint effusion is noted. Cattle will have a positive drawer sign but these are tricky to do and you can only try once (before they try to injure you back). The cow has to be weight-bearing to perform the test. Stand behind her, place your shoulder into her stifle and pull. Surgery is required for repair; this is a referral procedure.

Flexural contractures

Treatment of flexural contracture involves physical therapy, pain relief, and progressive splinting. Oxytetracycline can be useful in neonates as it temporarily relaxes the muscle-tendon unit. Surgery may be needed to transect tight tendons.  In ruminants, the contracture often involves the joint capsule, rather than just the tendons. Due to the joint capsule involvement, treatment is not as effective in ruminants as in horses.  If the joint capsule is contracted, that means there is no muscle to respond to tetracycline and nothing to cut at surgery.

Angular limb deformities

Camelids have mild carpus valgus normally. More severe angulation can be seen. However, the growth plates are slower to close than in horses. Mother nature and restricted diets can take care of the problem. Fast growing crias may need to be weaned early as the dam’s milk may be too rich.


The effectiveness of oxytetracycline in the treatment of calves with contracted flexor tendons. Veterinary Evidence Vol 7, Issue 1-no evidence either way



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Large Animal Surgery - Supplemental Notes Copyright © by Erin Malone, DVM, PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.