There have been great advances in the medical management of arthritis in pets but only recently has the veterinary world embraced the multitude of theories and complimentary therapies widely used within the medical world. One of the most proven methods of maintaining mobility in arthritic joints is physiotherapy (otherwise known as physical therapy) and the more advanced the mobility problems are, the more important this complimentary therapy becomes. In this article I hope to introduce you to the concepts and terminology of physiotherapy so that you can approach your veterinarian and see whether it may benefit your pet.
Warming Up Before Exercise: We all know we should warm up before exercise. This rule applies for pets too, especially if they have stiffened joints due to arthritis. Warming up literally means raising the temperature of the muscles. This reduces the stiffness in the ligaments, tendons and muscles and also greatly increases blood supply and oxygen to the limbs. A method used in physiotherapy is to use warm compresses to emulate this warming up process in particularly stiff joints. Simply take a warm hand towel and place it in a plastic bag — please ensure that it is not too hot — and apply it to the stiff joints. This is especially useful first thing in the morning when your pet awakes as this is the time that joints will be at their stiffest. Once the joints are warmed up they can then be flexed and extended passively to increase the loosening of stiff muscles and connective tissues. Do this for five minutes before exercise and when your pet starts the day to help soothe and prepare their stiff joints for exercise.
Regular Low Impact Exercise: Regular low stress exercise is crucial in preventing the poor muscle conditioning that occurs due to poorly mobilised arthritic limbs. Short walks and swims are excellent as they do not leave your pet too sore the day after exercise. Exercise helps to lose weight which reduces the load on the arthritic joints. In comparison to this long walks and short bursts of vigorous activity can worsen lameness by creating pain and inflammation. If your pet does seems to be sore after exercise, do not exercise them again until the pain has resolved. Re-start the exercise gently to start with. In particularly painful joints apply a bag of frozen peas to the joint for fifteen minutes to reduce pain and inflammation
Cooling Down After Exercise:At the end of any exercise a short period of gentle exercise helps to “cool” the muscles down. Dedicate 5 minutes of slow pace walking to the end of any exercise period.
Passive Range of Motion: One method that can be used to aid flexibility is passive flexion and extension of joints. This is most commonly referred to as passive range of motion exercise. Simply lie your pet on their side and starting with the foot, flex and extended the joints through their natural range of movement. Continue up the leg all the way to the shoulder or hip. If this exercise causes too much discomfort do not continue. Repeat passive motion on each joint around 20 times at least once a day.
Massage techniques: The benefits of massage include increased lymphatic flow, improved mobility of muscles, increased circulation to the area and relaxation. Any combination of the following techniques can be used on your pet. Some useful massage techniques that you can perform at home are summarised below:
Stroking: With the palm of your hand gently stroke your pet moving from head to tail or from shoulder/hip down to foot.
Effleurage: With the palm of your hand apply even pressure. Effleurage follows the opposite direction of stroking (foot to body). Overlap your strokes to cover the entire body area.
Percussion: Tap your pets body with a cupped hand with light brief contact. The “karate chop” position of the hand can also be used here and is similar to techniques involved in Swedish massage.
Friction: Use the tip of your fingers to make small rotary motions over your pets muscles.
Please contact your veterinarian for further advice if your pet is suffering with their arthritis. Before performing these techniques check with your vet that there are no reasons why you shouldn’t do them in your pet and to get instruction on how to perform the techniques correctly.
Dr. David Brooks is part of the online veterinary team at www.WhyDoesMyPet.com. Veterinarians, Vet Technicians, Nurses, Trainers, Behaviorists, Breeders and Pet Enthusiasts are here to answer your pet questions and concerns. Our dedicated community of caring experts are waiting to offer you advice, second opinions and support.