What Is Physical Therapy and How Can My Pet Benefit From It?
Physical therapy or rehabilitation has helped many people recover from injuries and surgery. Now, physical rehabilitation increasingly is being used in animals to help restore function, mobility, and quality of life. Although most commonly used in dogs, physical rehabilitation can be part of a treatment protocol for almost any animal species.
Types of veterinary physical rehabilitation:
Veterinary physical rehabilitation includes many techniques that can be used independently or together to maximize the full benefit of treatment, such as:
- Massage — Many massage techniques relax muscles, reduce stress, improve circulation, and decrease pain in pets—especially in athletic pets, with injuries or arthritis.
- Neuromuscular stimulation(TENS/EMS)— Electrical stimulation can strengthen muscles and reduce muscle wasting in pets who suffer from temporary paralysis or disuse atrophy due to acute/chronic pain. The Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) machine stimulates nerves which aids in pain relief, whereas EMS equipment stimulates muscles for rebuilding and rehabilitation of injuries.
- Passive range of motion— Physical rehabilitation professionals help patients perform passive range-of-motion exercises to prevent loss of function in non-ambulatory patients, help patients regain their normal function during recovery post-surgery, and improve circulation to cartilage for healing.
- Stretching– This aid in loosening your pet’s muscles before, during or after exercise. Not only does stretching allow your pet to be more flexible which reduces the risk of reoccurring injuries, it also promote better range of motion, circulation and oxygenation to the muscles.
- Thermotherapy – This form of therapy involves applying external heat to your pet, with a moist, warm towel or heating blanket for 5-7 Heat can reduce inflammation and help pets relax. Thermotherapy is often used to treat arthritis and general muscle tightness. We also use it to warm up ligaments, tendons and muscles prior to exercise or massage, as it improves flexibility.
- Cryotherapy– This form of therapy involves applying cold compresses to your pet, with bags of frozen peas or soft gel ice packs, for 5-10 This constricts blood vessels and thus reduces pain, inflammation and muscle spasms. Cryotherapy is regularly used to treat arthritis and postoperative pain and inflammation. It can also be used to prevent inflammation before or after exercise.
- Therapeutic exercises — Therapeutic exercises can be incorporated into every patient’s rehabilitation plan to improve strength, balance, and coordination. A wide range of exercises target specific muscle groups, strengthen core muscles, and rebuild muscle after disuse.
- Proprioception and gait retraining – Proprioception is your pet’s ability to know where their limbs are in any point in time. A variety of balance and coordination exercises can be done to improve your pet’s proprioception. Their gait can also be improved with assisted or restrictive exercises performed by the physical-therapist.
- Kinesiology Taping – By applied K-tape along the length of the injured muscle causes the elastic tape to recoil, lifting the skin from the underlying muscle. This has an effect of reducing the sensation of pain, promoting circulation assisting in the reduction of any swelling or bruising and enhancing the blood flow to the injured muscle. It can also improve biomechanical dysfunction by support or stability without restricting the range of motion. Improvements in postural dysfunction can also be seen due to K-tape improving the proprioceptive feedback to the area which assists in the retraining of the muscles that maintain the correct posture.
- Treadmill therapy— Treadmills improve strength, endurance, and balance in patients recovering from injuries. The treadmill belt propels patients forward, so less effort and fewer muscles are required than walking on their own. Pets struggling after an injury or surgery often can regain their normal gait by re-learning to walk on a treadmill.
- Underwater treadmill therapy— The buoyancy of water decreases stress on joints, so pets recovering from injuries often can walk on underwater treadmills before they are able to take steps on land. This form of therapy can improve a pet’s range of motion, circulation, flexibility, mobility, and balance. Underwater treadmill can only be initiated after the surgical site is closed.
- Laser therapy— Low-level laser therapy uses penetrating light to decrease pain and inflammation while improving healing in patients with problems such as arthritis, surgical incisions, and other wounds.
- Therapeutic ultrasound— Ultrasound units employ sound waves of varying frequency and intensity to increase blood flow and facilitate wound healing when applied to tissues. This therapy can treat tendinitis, pain, muscle spasms, joint stiffness, scar tissue build-up, and wounds
How does veterinary physical rehabilitation benefit pets:
Physical rehabilitation can provide pets a variety of benefits, including:
- Reduced pain
- Reduced inflammation
- Increased range of motion
- Improved balance and coordination
- Restoration of normal movement
- Restoration of normal muscle mass
- Increased muscle strength
- Weight loss in obese patients
- Improved overall quality of life
Which pets benefit from physical rehabilitation?:
Veterinary physical rehabilitation can benefit almost every pet suffering from a chronic inflammatory disease or recovering from an injury or wound. Conditions that might benefit from physical rehabilitation include:
- Degenerative joint disease or arthritis
- Hip dysplasia
- Tendon, ligament, and muscle injuries
- Rear limb weakness and/or Paralysis
- Recovery from musculoskeletal/Orthopedic surgery
- Traumatic injuries (e.g., being hit by a car)
- Spinal injury
- Nerve disorders
- Intervertebral disc disease