Humans recovering from surgery or injury often benefit greatly from physical therapy and rehabilitation. Focused exercises and proven therapies can reduce pain and quickly improve mobility. The same is true for our four-legged friends. The field of animal rehabilitation continues to grow as more veterinary professionals expand their expertise to provide this care, and as more pet owners learn about the availability and benefits of this treatment.
Animal rehabilitation is used to help pets recover from an injury or surgery, provide pain relief, and improve mobility. This kind of treatment incorporates advanced imaging, regenerative medicine, and pain management techniques. Conditions that can be treated with rehabilitation modalities include osteoarthritis, hip dysplasia, fractures, muscle injuries, spinal injuries and disorders, tendon injuries, and neuromuscular disease.
The first step is a complete exam that includes orthopedic and soft tissue evaluation. This is essential for a proper diagnosis of the animal’s injury or overall condition. The exam should include a measurement of the animal’s existing muscle mass and range of motion of affected joints, as well as a gait evaluation. A rehabilitation plan is then created that may include home exercises, medications and supplements, and customized rehab modalities preformed at the rehab facility by trained staff.
A variety of rehabilitation treatment therapies can be used, depending on the animal’s diagnosis. Massage is effective in increasing blood flow and decreasing tension. Therapeutic exercises using a balance board, treadmill, stair climbing or physioball can help improve the use of a lame limb, increase muscle strength and help prevent future injury. Therapeutic ultrasound warms deep tissues and is most often used on tendon and muscle injuries, as well as conditions that cause a decreased range of motion. Laser therapy has been shown to relieve pain from muscle and joint soreness, relieve symptoms of arthritis, relax muscle spasms and help wounds heal by increasing blood flow to an area. With aquatic therapy, an underwater treadmill is used to treat arthritis, back pain, and hip dysplasia, or to assist with recovery from surgery. Extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) is delivered directly to body tissues via a coupling gel and is used to treat arthritis.
Pets actively involved in rehabilitation therapy after surgery will recover more quickly, have increased mobility and flexibility, and have less need for pain medications. Prior to surgery, rehabilitation techniques can help pets lose weight, reduce pain, and gain muscle, increasing the likelihood of successful surgical outcomes.
It is common for rehabilitation techniques to also be used for athletic conditioning. This training can prove essential for competitive agility dogs, show dogs, and working dogs. Aerobic exercise and cross training improves a dog’s endurance, flexibility and strength, and helps prevent injury.
If you are considering rehabilitation services for your pet, it is important to choose a qualified veterinary rehabilitation professional. Physical therapy is not a standard area of veterinary education and requires additional training. Both veterinarians and physical therapists can earn additional certifications such as becoming a Canine Certified Rehabilitation Practitioner (CCRP). This training includes a variety of courses, supervised clinical experience and a cumulative exam.
Originally published September 2014 in the Lake Norman Citizen