Physiotherapy is a relatively new area in veterinary medicine and when done well the effect on your pet can be life changing. It can help restore movement and function when an animal is affected by injury, illness or a developmental condition. It involves working with the patient to promote health and wellbeing, and can be as simple as teaching an owner to walk a dog correctly.
The treatment goals are
- Pain management
- Restoring function (achieving correct movement)
- Psychological well being
There are several tools used and the choice will depend on the patient (age, body condition etc), the condition itself (nature of injury and timing of injury), owner commitment, and the desired outcome.
- Manual therapies – massage, stretches (active and passive), joint mobilisation and fascial release.
- Hot and cold therapy – depending on the injury and time since injury, application of heat or ice can have a significant effect on pain control and restoration of function.
- Modalities – magnetic therapy, ultrasound, laser and shockwave can all help to reduce pain, speed healing and restore normal function.
- Hydrotherapy – as the purpose is to restore normal function (i.e. walking), it is critical to use an underwater treadmill to create functional movement patterns.
- Therapeutic exercises – there are a range of exercises that can be performed at home to strengthen individual muscles.
- Splints/braces – in certain conditions these can be used for support or to protect a joint.
A physiotherapy assessment involves looking at the whole animal and not just the affected limb or joint. Pain in one area can cause changes throughout the entire body, and all these need to be addressed. Every programme will be developed for the individual animal, no two joint react the same, even in the same animal.
Pain control is crucial, as poor pain management will limit progress through a rehabilitation program. The level of pain control will vary depending on the animal, the problem being treated and the stage of healing/progress.
A lot of dogs enforced rest will have negative impact on the rest of the body. They can develop strange behavioural patterns, and it can have effects on both hormones and their immune system. Depression can lead to changes in fine motor control and slow recovery. It is crucial to develop an exercise program that engages and stimulates the animal, while protecting and strengthening the affected joints.
Nutrition is a critical part of the body’s healing process. An appropriate amount of a good quality diet reflecting the amount of exercise the animal is doing is an important part of any recovery process. Being either overweight or underweight will have an impact on recovery. Supplement such as glucosamine, chondroitin, boswellia and omega 3 can all can help in the healing process.
A good physiotherapy plan can have immense effects on both the happiness and well being of the animal, and on it’s return to normal activity. It does however take significant commitment to implement effectively.