Physiotherapy uses a range of techniques and equipment to optimise the health, performance and recovery of your dog following injury. Physiotherapy shouldn’t be painful although, in the acute stage of injury there may be some discomfort and stiffness following treatment but your physiotherapist will tell you what to expect after the treatment and give you any aftercare instructions.
Physiotherapists make use of electrotherapies, manual techniques and exercise. Physiotherapy is beneficial before and after surgery to promote recovery, improve the healing of injuries and to build, maintain and improve condition of the dog alongside managing long term conditions such as osteoarthritis.
Use it or lose it
Exercise can be used to target a specific muscle or group of muscles during rehabilitation or as part of a conditioning programme. Exercises can be low impact, minimising strain placed on joints whilst still building muscle. Overall fitness can be improved, alongside strengthening and improving the flexibility of tissues which can contribute to minimising risk of injury.
Core strength is vital to the fitness of working gundogs. It provides support and stability for the spine and it enables the dog to jump, swim and carry birds. Engagement of the core is targeted by many different exercises, most of which have minimal impact on the joints. A strong core allows the dog to be flexible, carry themselves correctly and perform to their best ability.
Where there has been an injury, or wear and tear of a joint has occurred, strengthening of the surrounding muscles provides support and stability to the joint. This can reduce further damage in the joint caused by instability. Physiotherapy can maintain the condition of a joint, which may prevent the need for surgery and delay the use of strong pain medication.
Working with water
As part of the exercises prescribed by your physiotherapist, they may recommend hydrotherapy. This consists of your dog working in a pool or under water treadmill. The benefits of working in water is a reduction in the strain put through your dog’s joints. The therapist is able to encourage or adjust the movement of the dog.
The water is warm which can relax tense muscles in a similar way to heat therapy, the warmth can provide pain relief and make movement easier for your dog. Water has buoyant properties reducing the weight bearing on limbs in the under water treadmill and removing it completely in the pool. Resistance in water is greater than in air, when your dog works in water the muscles work harder to push through the water, achieving the same amount of work in a much shorter time. Working in the water is much harder for your dog because of the resistance, and this means cardiovascular fitness is also targeted. Hydrotherapy can be used as part of conditioning programmes, weight loss programmes and as part of rehabilitation due to the versatile nature of the exercise.
A hands-on job
Massage is a vital tool used by physiotherapists often alongside other treatments. In simple terms massage uses pressure and movement on tissues to effect a change. There are several different techniques known as strokes depending on what the physiotherapist is trying to achieve.
Some strokes are used to warm the tissue before completing other strokes, to connect different strokes, before stretching or to evaluate how the tissue responds. Warming the tissue increases blood flow and helps to remove cellular waste. Increasing the blood flow increases the oxygen and nutrients within the tissue which is used to build and heal damaged tissues.
In other strokes pressure is used to flush blood out of the tissue removing waste products, when this is released an influx of fresh blood providing oxygen and nutrients re-enters the tissue. Alternatively, pressure is used to release an area of tension or to breakdown scar tissue to allow healing of the tissue.
One stroke called myofascial release, which has very slow, deep movement, releases a tissue called fascia. Fascia is a connective tissue which is found throughout the body and can become dehydrated causing it to stick together or to surrounding tissues. This can restrict movement of a muscle, the skin or other structures and can cause pain
The final type of stroke is used to excite the muscle by the application of rapid movement. This causes an increase in the blood flow which makes it ideal as a warm-up massage before exercise. it also causes the muscle to tense and contract as it stimulates the nerves. This is a stroke which is often used in dogs who have a neurological issue to help prevent wastage of the muscle and to encourage normal nerve function.
Passive range of motion
Another tool which is used in most cases is Passive Range Of Motion or PROM for short. PROM does not involve the dog moving the joint, this is done by the physiotherapist or left for the owner to do between visits. The joint or joints, are taken through their normal range of motion. PROM helps to prevent or improve restrictions within the joint as the joint is moved the synovial fluid which lubricates the joint is warmed and gets spread around the joint ensuring the whole joint surface is coated. This allows the joint to move more freely and can be beneficial during injury recovery and to support dogs with osteoarthritis.
Old fashioned stretching
Stretching is used as part of injury recovery and during conditioning. Stretching places a slight tension on the muscle, normally when a muscle works it contracts and shortens, stretching is done in the opposite direction to lengthen the muscle.
Stretching can help to make the muscle more flexible and elastic which can reduce injury risk. During the healing of an injury stretching is used to ensure the fibres within the muscle align and heal correctly. If the fibres don’t heal correctly this causes an area of weakness and may prevent the muscle from working correctly. This not only puts a strain on the injured muscle but on the surrounding muscles and muscles which share the same function.
There is a range of equipment available to physiotherapists to assist them in treating your dog. The most commonly used are laser pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (pulse mag), ultrasound, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS), Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES) and heat and cold therapy. Most physiotherapists will have some but not all the equipment, but don’t worry if a physiotherapist doesn’t have a specific piece of equipment as these are additional tools and your animal can be successfully treated without them.
Laser is very versatile and is used for many different conditions. Dependant on the settings used it can reduce pain and inflammation or promote the healing of a tissue or wound. Laser uses light to stimulate something called chromophores in cells. Laser is completely painless, and the animal will not be able to feel anything whilst it is
Pulse mag generates a small electromagnetic field which corrects imbalances within a cell’s voltage. Damaged cells have altered voltages which prevent them from functioning correctly. Pulse mag is used to treat pain, swelling, bruising and bone injuries. It can also be beneficial for neurological injuries as it encourages normal nerve function. Similarly, to laser the animal cannot feel anything during the treatment, and it is completely painless.
Ultrasound uses sound energy to vibrate the tissue to stimulate healing. Ultrasound is most effective on tissues with a high collagen content. Collagen is found in all tissues of the body but is highest in tendons, ligaments and scar tissue. Ultrasound helps to align the direction of collagen fibres, this ensures the tissue heals correctly, it can also be used to improve scar tissue. To apply ultrasound a gel is used to ensure there is a good contact between the machine and skin, in animals with very long hair it may be necessary to trim or clip the area.
TENS is used to provide pain relief although it is not always well tolerated in dogs. TENS affects a nerve fibre called A delta which causes a release of a substance called encephalin which is an endorphin. This blocks the nerve pathway which sends pain signals and therefore provides pain relief. TENS is applied with electrodes directly onto the skin, to improve the conduction between the electrode and the skin a gel is used.
NMES causes an artificial contraction of the muscle. This can be beneficial in animals with a neurological injury but can also be used to aid conditioning. However, similarly to TENS it is not that well tolerated by the dog. NMES also uses electrodes with gel but they need to be placed near the motor point of a muscle to cause the contraction.
Heat and cold therapy
Although, heat and cold therapy don’t use electrotherapies they fall under the electrotherapy bracket. When using either it is important that an interface such as a towel is used so there is a barrier between the skin and therapy application to prevent damage to the skin.
Heat therapy is very beneficial as it warms the tissue. It can be applied regularly and is a great tool to leave with owners. Heat therapy is used to warm the tissue up before exercise or stretching, to relieve spasm in muscles and to reduce pain.
Cold therapy is generally used in the acute (early) stage of injury or post-surgery. It is used to reduce swelling, pain and bruising. it may also be recommended by your physiotherapist to reduce any discomfort if they have worked deeply on an area.
What next and how to find a physio?
Your physiotherapist can advise you on how you can adapt your dogs routine, home and lifestyle to help manage a condition or recovery from injury. This can be simple things such as ensuring the flooring is suitable, feed and water bowls are at the correct height or altering access to the house to make moving around easier and safer foryour dog.
The most important thing when working with a physiotherapist is to complete any home exercise programmes you have been given. If you struggle to complete an exercise or are struggling for time let your physiotherapist know, they may be able to give you an alternative exercise or change the programme. The home exercise is a vital tool used by the physiotherapist, to ensure you get the most out of the next visit. The exercise allows the physiotherapist to continue moving forwards with treatment so you and your dog progress.
When looking for a physiotherapist it is important to ensure they are fully qualified. As a minimum this should be a level 6 (a Bachelor of Science). They should hold professional indemnity and public liability insurance and be willing to provide evidence of this. Physiotherapists work under the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, this means they must obtain consent from your veterinary surgeon before treating your animal.
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