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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Synergy of Modeling, Imaging Technologies Compares Thoroughbred Limb Biomechanics Shod and Unshod

The final version of an Open Access hoof biomechanics research paper previewed
in February is now available for free download by Hoof Blog readers.

In A preliminary case study of the effect of shoe-wearing on the biomechanics of a horse’s foot, published in the Open Access journal PeerJ, an international research team explored the capability of combining still and motion imaging and modeling technologies and systems to evaluate the effect of a stainless steel horseshoe on the function of the same foot of the same horse.

The horseshoe's effects were compared to the same foot of the same horse without a shoe. This early experiment is expected to be followed with additional research that would be applicable to the safety and efficiency of racehorse hooves.

University of Queensland (Australia) School of Biomedical Sciences research team leader Dr Olga Panagiotopoulou collaborated with British researchers at The Royal Veterinary College and American researchers at Brown University in Rhode Island. Together, they combined 3D x-ray imaging technology with computer simulations and models of the forces exerted on bones in the equine distal limb.

“This novel combination has enabled us to study the effect of a stainless steel horseshoe on skeletal stresses within the forefoot in a live racehorse,” Panagiotopoulou said. "“This is the first time this combination of techniques has been used in large live animals such as horses. Future research using more animals will enhance our understanding of what regions of the horses’ feet are most at risk of damage.”

From the paper (used with permission): The experimental and virtual set-up of the research illustrated by: (A) Experimental set-up of the horse walking on a custom-made platform retrofitted with a forceplate and surrounded by the bi-planar fluoroscopy system. (B) Virtual setup of the horse right forefoot based on the experimental alignment of the X-ray sources and the intensifiers. Images in black frames (right and left) illustrate the projections of the distal foot from the two X-ray cameras.

The method was used effectively and documented in detail in a single preliminary case studied at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in England.  RVC vertebrate biomechanics and evolutionary anatomy researcher Professor John Hutchinson said further research was necessary.

Dr Olga Panagiotopoulou

“We need to undertake further studies with more horses moving at faster speeds and gaits and with a similar focus on the hind feet,” he said.

The research involved walking a Thoroughbred between three dimensional radiographs, an imaging technique developed by Professor Stephen Gatesy and colleagues at Brown University and used previously to view bone interaction in small animals such as fish and birds.

Dr Panagiotopoulou used film industry animation techniques to transform the radiographic data into a life-size three-dimensional model.

“By combining the 3D model with other research data we were able to measure the force the horse’s foot bones generated when they hit the ground and develop comprehensive simulations,” she said.

“We believe this work could pave the way for new directions in research which will minimize foot injuries and improve animal health and welfare.”

Throughout the paper, the researchers compare and contrast the details of their findings with data compiled and published using more widely-used methods of evaluating biomechanical function of the distal limb.

This graphic describes data from the palmar view of the foot. The dorsal view is also detailed in the Peerj.

The research published in PeerJ noted the following findings in the single test case:

  1.  Suggestion that the stainless steel shoe shifted craniocaudal, mediolateral and vertical ground reaction forces (GRFs) at mid-stance.
  2. A pattern of flexion-extension in the PIP (proximal interphalangeal or pastern) joing and DIP (distal interphalangeal or coffin) joint that was similar between the unshod and shod conditions, with slight variation in rotation angles throughout the stance phase.
  3. Small differences at mid-stance in joint angle of the PIP joint, with the shod condition being more extended than the unshod horse, whereas the DIP joint was extended more in the unshod than the shod condition.
  4. In both conditions, the DIP joint extends more than the PIP after mid-stance and until the end of the stance.
  5.  FInite element analysis (FEA), conducted solely on the bones, showed increased von Mises and maximum principal stresses on the forefoot phalanges in the shod condition at mid-stance,consistent with the tentative conclusion that a steel shoe might increase mechanical loading. 

The authors state clearly that the limited sample size did not allow for analyzing the results for statistical significance. The research was conducted several years ago.

"Expansion of this research question, especially via the application of this novel combination of in vivo experiments and computer models should not only create a foundation of stronger data and inferences on which future studies can continue to build on, but can also bolster confidence in equine biomechanics to better understand the form, function and pathological relationships of the anatomical tissues of the equine foot," the authors concluded.

In this video posted last year by the University of Queensland, you can learn more about Dr Panagiotopoulou's research on the natural wear of elephant feet and how there is a need to evaluate different hoof trimming protocols in use for elephants in captivity, who often develop foot problems. Earlier this year, she published a paper on the "architecture" of the forehead of the sperm whale, and how it facilitates the whale's potential for ramming a whaling ship, just as described in Herman Melville's classic novel Moby Dick and in real life, the Essex.

Full citation on this research:

Panagiotopoulou O, Rankin JW, Gatesy SM, Hutchinson JR. (2016) A preliminary case study of the effect of shoe-wearing on the biomechanics of a horse’s foot. PeerJ 4:e2164

Click for download:

Learn more about Dr. Panagiotopoulou and all her research at UQ's Moving Morphology and Functional Mechanics Laboratory on the lab's website.

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