Research Journal

Exercise And The Digital Cushion

A study with dairy calves was conducted to determine if exercise in a mixed terrain (grass, dirt and rocks) affects development of the digital cushion and pedal bones compared to less exercise in a grassy environment. Two-month-old animals were randomly placed into exercise and control groups. For 4 months, the exercise group was fed and watered at opposite ends of a half-mile long lane. Feeding was twice a day so the animals ran or walked briskly behind a feed truck 1 mile a day and walked leisurely to return to water 1 mile a day. After 4 months, the volume and surface areas of the digital cushion and the volumes of the short pastern and coffin bones were compared using magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography.

Results indicate there was no real difference between the average body weight of the exercise and control groups. However, after adjusting for weight, the digital cushions, short pasterns and coffin bones of the animals in the exercised group had greater volumes and surface areas (digital cushions) compared with the controls. The authors concluded that exercise on alternative terrain influenced the development of these foot structures in adolescent animals in a manner that may help prevent future lameness.

While there’s no guarantee similar results would be seen in horses, many of the lameness problems of cattle are similar to those of horses. It seems likely that exercise and terrain would similarly affect foot development in young horses.

— Gard JA

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Albert Kane

Albert J. Kane, DVM, MPVM, Ph.D.

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