Physiotherapy for Pets — A way to fight pain

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Dr Ashwani Kumar Singh
Dr Kumar Manglam Yadav
The value of a physiotherapist when you need to restore fitness after an accident or injury is unparalleled. Sometimes it may be ‘tough love’ but the end result makes the discomfort and effort worthwhile. –by Dr Ashwani Kumar Singh and Dr Kumar Manglam Yadav

When your much-loved four-legged furry friend is in pain from a surgery or injury, physiotherapy is a good way to get their strength back. The veterinary phy siotherapists do the same work that human physiotherapists do. Veterinary physiotherapy for dogs involves adapting human physical therapy techniques to increase the functioning and mobility of their joints and muscles.
Signs that your pet needs physiotherapist

  •  Back, neck, pelvic pain
  •  Injury or accident
  •  Obesity
  •  Lost enthusiasm for playing and running
  •  Recovery after surgery
  •  Joint problems: arthritis, stiffness in joints, elbow and hip dysplasia
  •  Unexplainable behavioral problems
  •  Stiffness and weakness in legs
  •  Difficulty getting up from sitting or lying
  •  Spinal stiffness/soreness, intervertebral disc disease
  •  Muscle, tendon and ligament (cruciate) strain
  •  Difficulty with functions – jumping, climbing stairs
  •  Trauma, soft tissue injuries to tendon, ligament (cruciate), muscle
  •  Lameness or limping
  •  Snapping, growling or crying when touched
  •  Reduced mobility in elderly dogs

When to start?
For best results, physiotherapy should commence as soon as possible after surgery, injury, or diagnosis. When started after surgery, certain physiotherapy techniques help stimulate and speed up healing, soothing pain, and reducing swelling and stiffness while reducing the risks of muscle atrophy and bone degeneration. Your vet will advise you.

Techniques used in Canine Physiotherapy
Cold Therapy: In an acute injury, such as a fall at a competition, ice is the best thing to place around the injured area. The ice should be wrapped in a fabric so that it does not come in direct contact with the fur. Ice will also help reduce swelling around the injured area.

Heat Therapy: Heat applied to an injured or paining area can be very soothing. This is particularly applicable to injuries that are in the healing phase or that have been going for some time such as arthritis. Wet heat is always better than dry heat so a wet flannel placed in the microwave for several seconds makes a good warm wrap for stiff joints.

Massage: Massage is great way to relieve muscle spasm and pain. It increases blood supply to the area. Many different techniques are available and most are simple to do. With some specialist massaging techniques experts can speed up the recovery from injuries. You can also give light massage to your pet at home. Talk to your vet about the right way to do so.

Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy: This technique passes current through copper coils. This generates a magnetic field. The electric current is pulsed to produce a pulsed magnetic field. This pulsing of the magnetic field is thought to interfere with nerve (pain) transmission.

TENS: It is possible to use a TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) machine in dogs but getting the settings correct is difficult as they cannot communicate that tingling feeling. Also the pain relief from TENS only works while the machine is in place.

Joint Mobilisations: Through flexing, extending, and stretching joints to their limits, physiotherapy experts can achieve passive range of motion, which is used to encourage your pet to use their full range of motion in their joints.

Balance Exercises: By the help of specialised equipment it is possible to strengthen weak limbs and build up limbs affected by atrophy. These techniques are particularly useful for helping dogs to recover from surgery, but can also help dogs recover from neurological conditions such as strokes.

Strengthening Exercises: If your pet is suffering from hip dysplasia or degenerative joint disease, strengthening exercises can be used to increase the flexion of the hip joint. Techniques include uphill and downhill walking, the use of stairs, and encouraging your pet to sit on two or three legs.

Ball Exercise: Get a large ball or buy a Swiss Ball. Place the ball under your pet’s torso so that your pet is draped over the ball. Hold onto your pet with both hands for safety. Roll the ball slightly forward so the hind feet are just off the ground. Then roll it back so that they touch. Repeat. This encourages the instinct to stretch the toes to the floor and provides weight bearing exercise.

If your pet is a small breed dog, use both hands to hold him safely in a standing position on top of the ball. Now move the ball slightly forward, backward, and sideways to encourage and maintain his balance.

Stair Standing: Get your pet to stand at the bottom of a staircase, with the front two feet up a comfortable number of stairs. You can also do it with his front legs on a stable sofa or chair. This exercise can be done as a simple stand to increase weight bearing in the hind legs. Increase the complexity and fun by walking your pet sideways a step and back, or gently nudging the hips so that he needs to reposition his feet for balance.

Body Balance: Depending on the size of your pet, you may use a foam cushion or an air mattress for this exercise. The purpose is to have all four paws on the mattress, and your pet standing firmly, working on his core muscles to maintain balance.

Animals are incredible athletes. When they have had traumatic or surgical injuries, their ability to return to their previous level of exercise and flexibility is impacted by their ability to rehab their muscles. This includes the ability to fully stretch and flex muscles, and the retraining of muscles to be strong enough to support and sustain various actions.

Physiotherapy is important for recovery. You should continue to do it even if you see little change in your pet’s condition. Nerves regenerate very slowly, but healing does occur. Your dedication and patience to your pet’s physical therapy programme will ensure your pet makes the best recovery possible. So, keep motivating your pet onto the path of speedy recovery.

(Dr Ashwani Kumar Singh and Dr Kumar Mangalam Yadav are veterinary physicians & surgeons based in Kanpur, UP)