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
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
Stroking: With the palm of your hand gently stroke
your pet moving from head to tail or from shoulder/hip down to
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
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