Canine Physical Rehabilitation

Physical rehabilitation can be a valuable tool to help our canine companions heal from trauma, prevent further injury, reduce pain and help to improve function and quality of life. 

Common conditions where physical rehabilitation is helpful include:

  • after any orthopedic surgery
  • intervertebral disc disease
  • arthritis
  • hip dysplasia
  • tendon, muscle or ligament injuries
  • weight loss
  • athletic performance (agility, obedience, herding, etc.)
  • muscle strengthening/retraining after nerve trauma or injury
  • chronic pain

As part of your pet's rehabilitation program you can expect:

  • a thorough head to toe evaluation of all joints and muscles looking not only for the "problem area" but also any other areas that have been compensating for the area of pain or weakness.
  • a diagnosis for your pet's condition that goes beyond "soft tissue injury" and helps us to identify potential causes for the lameness
  • a treatment plan for your pet's condition that includes not only in-house therapy, but also a plan for things that can be done at home to help improve your pet's comfort and function.
  • post-operative guidance to help reduce pain and swelling, increase joint range of motion and weight-bearing to help your pet gradually and safely return to full function after an orthopedic surgery.
  • management of chronic conditions such as intervertebral disc disease and arthritis to help keep their spine and joints healthy and allow them improved function with less pain when dealing with conditions that we know won't just "go away".

Some of the techniques that are utilized in physical rehabilitation include:

  • Joint mobilization/compression:  When a joint is inflammed due to trauma or arthritis the joint fluid becomes thin and less "slippery" which can make movement painful.  A painful joint does not move normally, which decreases the lubrication of the joint and decreases the amount of joint fluid present.  As the joint is further restricted, the joint capsule can become stiff, further limiting movement.  Joint mobilization is designed to stimulate joint movement, lubricate the joint surfaces, stretch the joint capsule and stimulate blood flow so that the joint moves more smoothly and with less pain.  The more the dog can move without pain, the better the joint is lubricated which breaks the cycle and helps improve joint health.
  • Passive and active range of motion:  When dogs hurt, they don't want to move.  If this goes on long enough not only will joints become stiff and have a decrease in range of motion, but the dog becomes used to not using the leg and muscle atrophy can result, making the leg weak.  By moving the limb through a normal range of motion for dogs that are unwilling to move on their own, we can help to prevent stiffness.  Once the dog is willing to move the leg on their own exercises can be prescribed to encourage improved use of the leg in a non-weight bearing fashion until normal weight bearing is more comfortable.
  • Massage:  Many dogs with orthopedic injuries can develop painful muscle spasms in the back and supporting legs that are working harder to make up for the injured or painful body part.  Therapeutic massage can help to relax those painful trigger points and decrease muscle spasm. 
  • Laser therapy:  Using light energy, laser therapy has been shown to have a therapeutic benefit in pain control, reduction of swelling and inflammation, stimulate healing both of chronic tendon and ligament injuries as well as wounds.  When appropriate laser can be incorporated into your pet's rehabilitation program to improve comfort, speed healing and reduce dependancy on medication for pain control.
  • Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS): Muscle stimulation can be used in various ways to reduce pain, minimize swelling during injury or post-operatively, retrain muscles that have been weakened from trauma, nerve or spinal damage, or disuse due to injury or surgery. 
  • Therapeutic exercise:  The goal of therapeutic exercise is to start slowly and build strength and endurance for your pet's specific needs.  For some this can be the slow re-training associated with the safe return to normal function after an orthopedic surgery, for others the process of learning to walk again after a ruptured intervertebral disc.  For a dog intended as an athlete it can involve increasing strength and endurance with a goal of building a champion!  Therapeutic exercise is started in house and prescribed to be continued at home for maximal benefit.