Background: The metacarpophalangeal joint (fetlock) is the most commonly affected site of racehorse injury, with multiple observed pathologies consistent with extreme fetlock dorsiflexion. Race surface mechanics affect musculoskeletal structure loading and injury risk because surface forces applied to the hoof affect limb motions. Race surface mechanics are a function of controllable factors. Thus, race surface design has the potential to reduce the incidence of musculoskeletal injury through modulation of limb motions. However, the relationship between race surface mechanics and racehorse limb motions is unknown. Objective: To determine the effect of changing race surface and racehorse limb model parameters on distal limb motions. Study design: Sensitivity analysis of in silico fetlock motion to changes in race surface and racehorse limb parameters using a validated, integrated racehorse and race surface computational model. Methods: Fetlock motions were determined during gallop stance from simulations on virtual surfaces with differing average vertical stiffness, upper layer (e.g. cushion) depth and linear stiffness, horizontal friction, tendon and ligament mechanics, as well as fetlock position at heel strike. Results: Upper layer depth produced the greatest change in fetlock motion, with lesser depths yielding greater fetlock dorsiflexion. Lesser fetlock changes were observed for changes in lower layer (e.g. base or pad) mechanics (nonlinear), as well as palmar ligament and tendon stiffness. Horizontal friction and fetlock position contributed less than 1° change in fetlock motion. Main limitations: Simulated fetlock motions are specific to one horse's anatomy reflected in the computational model. Anatomical differences among horses may affect the magnitude of limb flexion, but will likely have similar limb motion responses to varied surface mechanics. Conclusions: Race surface parameters affected by maintenance produced greater changes in fetlock motion than other parameters studied. Simulations can provide evidence to inform race surface design and management to reduce the incidence of injury.
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