In certain cases of navicular disease, drilling a hole in the bone – a procedure called core decompression – might provide a new treatment option for veterinarians. The procedure is commonly used to treat human osteonecrosis (bone death caused by poor blood supply).

The goal of the procedure, currently being tested at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, is to ease a horse’s pain and stimulate bone growth.

Surgeons perform this core decompression surgery on humans who are experiencing pain caused by increased pressure within a dying bone. It decreases the pressure within the bone and can also stimulate bone growth.

In horses, sustained pressure in the navicular bone by the deep digital flexor tendon, secondary to abnormal forces exerted on the tendon, results in abnormal remodeling of the navicular bone. In response, the bone begins to degenerate and becomes fluid-filled. Researchers monitored the pressure in the bone before and after surgery and found that all the horses had less pressure around the navicular bones after surgery.