Physical therapy is the standard of care for human medicine, but until recently it had not been utilized as much in veterinary medicine. Veterinarians are learning from physical therapy techniques used for humans and adapting them for animals. The goals of physical rehabilitation are to reduce pain, restore tissue function, and improve mobility, balance, and strength. Veterinary patients that benefit from physical rehabilitation programs range from those recovering from surgery or injuries to overweight animals to senior pets with chronic pain issues. At Rockville Road Animal Hospital we use several different modalities and tools in treatment plans tailored to each dog’s individual needs.
Thermal therapies are the application of cold or heat to the patient. Cryotherapy, or cold therapy, is indicated in the first 72 hours after acute injury or surgery. Applying an ice pack wrapped in a warm damp towel to the affected area reduces swelling and inflammation, decreases muscle spasms, and provides pain relief. Cold therapy is typically performed 2-4 times a day for 10-20 minutes each session. After 72 hours heat therapy can begin. Heat therapy provides pain relief, increases circulation, loosens stiff joints, and promotes tissue healing. Warm damp towels placed in plastic bags are what we generally recommend for heat therapy. Hot packs and heat wraps can be used, but caution should be taken to avoid burning the pet’s skin. Heat is applied 2-4 times a day for 15-30 minutes each session.
Massage therapy can manage pain, relax muscles, improve circulation, and reduce swelling. It is performed independently or as a “warm-up” to therapeutic exercises. Various forms of massage techniques are used to achieve optimal benefits.
Range of motion exercises are often performed on our physical rehabilitation patients. These exercises maintain joint mobility, promote cartilage health, and prevent muscle contracture. Passive range of motion exercises are done with the dog relaxed and the joint is gently and slowly manipulated by the technician. For active range of motion exercises the patient moves the joint himself. This can be achieved by having the dog walk over or around obstacles,switching from a standing position to sitting and back to standing, or using a treat to encourage stretching in different positions. For small dogs we can have them walk or paddle (supported by the technician) in warm water in the bathtub to have them move with less pressure on their joints. Specialty clinics use underwater treadmills and can accommodate larger dogs.
Weight shifting encourages the patient to use the affected leg and learn it is no longer painful. This is achieved several ways. The technician can support the patient with one hand or a sling and gently push or shift the dog’s weight off the good leg and onto the affected leg for a short period of time. Sometimes the patient will stand with his front legs on a step or therapy ball to shift his weight to his back legs. These exercises improve balance, rebuild core muscle strength, and increase muscle mass.
These are the most common techniques used with our canine physical rehabilitation patients, other exercises can be performed depending on each patient’s needs and abilities. If you believe your pet has a condition that can be improved with physical rehabilitation, call our office to schedule an examination with one of our veterinarians at (317)271-2200.