I have been trying to decide what topic to select for my first blog. Then, lo and behold, circumstances made the decision for me.
My own dog is an English Springer Spaniel, approximately 11-12 years old, and has been treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) for a couple of years to deal with inflammation and pain associated with joint stiffness. However, recently I felt the drugs were not hitting the pain as he has been getting progressively stiffer, sleeping quite a lot, and moaning & groaning more than usual. He originally had stiffness and crepitus (crunching) in one elbow but I noticed recently that when I look at him from behind, he moves his back legs a little like Charlie Chaplin. Now, he is getting on a bit so I was putting a certain amount of this stiffness down to old age. He has always been an active dog and still loves his walks but recently, it’s more a case of the mind is willing but the body is weak!
I decided to have him assessed by a vet. At the initial consultation, palpation demonstrated very quickly that he has developed a back problem and, although he is normally incredibly stoic, a squeeze of his quadriceps (thigh) muscles elicited a yelp and he turned to go for the vet – first time EVER! His muscles were very sore from trying to hold all his sore bony bits in place so they wouldn’t cause more pain. He also has very tight tendons in his front legs causing him to be quite lame – some days worse than others. Subsequently, he spent a day with the vet having blood tests and x-rays done and the outcome is that he has Canine Spondylosis Deformans and very arthritic elbow joints. Canine Spondylosis is not uncommon in older dogs – luckily my dog has no neurological deficits which mean that the condition has not affected his spinal cord or any nerve roots. And arthritic elbows are not uncommon in older English Springer Spaniel dogs. This breed can be quite hard on their limbs if they are working gun dogs and, even as pets like mine, when I see my boy ‘spring’, I can certainly see why his poor elbows are sore – they have taken a hammering during his life.
What is his prognosis? He can continue to lead a normal life, although he will take pain relief (analgesia) and anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) medication. He will have regular daily exercise.
How can physiotherapy help him?
Firstly we maintain his weight so that there is no additional pressure placed on his joints due to excessive weight.
He has pain directly related to his back and elbow problems, and he also has secondary issues – pain and tight muscles due to him trying to compensate for the primary problems. This is quite normal for dogs and is why, as veterinary/animal physiotherapists, we assess the entire animal and treat both primary and secondary issues.
We can treat his sore back muscles with Pulsed Magnetic Field Therapy (PMFT) for pain relief – this will complement the drugs he is receiving and will be applied directly to his lumbar spine (lower back) to relieve chronic pain – this will also help those hindlimb muscles that have become very sore and tight (high-tone) due to him trying to control his pain.
He will benefit from red light phototherapy (cold laser) through some of his muscles – this treatment helps to relieve pain, improve circulation & thus bring oxygen, which ultimately can help to relax tight muscles.
He will receive some massage therapy for his leg muscles and along his back to relieve any tightness where his muscle are working hard to avoid back pain. His forelimb muscles are also affected. His tendons in his lower forelimbs have become very tight due to trying to support his elbows, so these will also benefit from massage therapy.
Then we put together an exercise program that he will do on a daily basis. For example, this will include active stretches to relieve his back and leg muscles where they are overly tight. It will also include several short walks per day. He will do some exercises over poles to maintain range of movement of his leg joints, and he will do some weaving/serpentine movements to maintain flexibility in his spine.
Once the weather gets warmer (I live in hope here in Ireland), he will also benefit from swimming so we’ll be taking a few trips to the seaside. Can’t wait!
It is really important to keep joints moving to maintain their health. The old adage – “Move it or lose it” – really does have a sound basis in science. Flexing and extending joints help the synovial fluid in the joint capsules to wash over cartilage which keeps the cartilage nourished and healthy. Healthy cartilage is vital as it cushions the ends of bones and stops them rubbing together and wearing away.
There are heaps of products on the market for dogs. Your vet can advise you. In my experience, you get what you pay for, so the more you can spend, the better the supplement. My advice is to try and get one that contains hyaluronic acid – they do tend to be a little more expensive but worth it for the additional nutrients provided for your dog’s joints.
Please note, in all instances of problems with your animals, your first port of call should always be your vet. Veterinary/Animal Physiotherapists and other animal practitioners may only work on your animals with your vet’s permission – that’s the law!
Every animal that I see is assessed as an individual. I get a report from your vet which tells me what has been diagnosed. I then decide on a course of treatment to suit your animal’s specific needs, which will complement what your vet has already prescribed. This may include massage therapies, electrotherapies, and an exercise program designed specifically for your animal’s issues which you will carry out at home between visits.
If you would like to find out if physiotherapy might benefit your animal, with no requirement to make an appointment, please do get in touch. Call or text Anne-Marie on 087 453 1410 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the Animal Physiotherapy Q&A group on Facebook and have your questions answered there.