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Physical Rehabilitation: Helping Your Pet Recover Faster

June 1, 2021

Physical Rehabilitation: Helping Your Pet Recover Faster

If you have had surgery, or suffered a musculoskeletal injury, physical therapy (i.e., rehabilitation) was likely part of your recovery plan. Physical rehabilitation’s benefits have become readily apparent to people who have experienced a faster recovery and improved function, and its modalities and methods have been adapted to benefit pets. After your pet’s surgery or injury, our physical rehabilitation department will work closely with your family veterinarian and surgeon to develop a rehabilitation plan that will help her recover more quickly from conditions, such as:

  • Orthopedic injuries
  • Neurologic conditions
  • Trauma
  • Intervertebral disc disease
  • Fibrocartilaginous embolism
  • Chronic arthritis
  • Obesity
  • Mobility-related issues

Each pet’s rehabilitation plan is individualized to best help him or her regain function quickly and safely, and may include a variety of modalities. 

Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT) for pets

ESWT uses high-intensity sound waves emitted from a hand-held wand that is moved over your pet’s body surface. The sound waves interact with body tissues, stimulating many benefits that include:

  • New blood vessel development
  • Chronic inflammation resolution
  • Collagen deposition
  • Calcium buildup dissolution

Body-tissue changes create an optimal healing environment, and applying ESWT to a nonhealing area can stimulate the healing process. A 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association demonstrated significant improvement in 64% of dogs with orthopedic shoulder disease treated with ESWT who had not improved with previous medical management. 

In addition to improved healing, ESWT produces short- and long-term pain relief, and can be used to treat conditions such as:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Chronic arthritis
  • Back pain
  • Non-healing bone fractures
  • Chronic and non-healing wounds

ESWT treatments are loud, which can make pets anxious, so they will be sedated to help them relax. Each session lasts only a few minutes, and the treatment number and frequency will vary, depending on your pet’s condition. 

Neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) for pets

NMES uses low-level electrical currents, delivered via electrodes, to stimulate muscle contraction. During treatment sessions, the targeted muscles are repeatedly contracted and relaxed, mimicking normal muscle movement. NMES is particularly useful in pets who cannot perform voluntary movement, such as pets who are paralyzed or recovering from surgery, as well as those with edema or delayed wound healing. NMES benefits include:

  • Prevention of muscle atrophy
  • Joint mobility and motion range maintenance
  • Increased circulation
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Pain relief
  • Increased muscle strength

NMES is usually administered several times per week during 10- to 30-minute sessions. Treatments may cause a mild tingling sensation, but are not painful, and most pets enjoy the sessions once they learn what to expect. Treatment duration will depend on your pet’s condition. 

Underwater treadmill therapy for pets

You may have used a treadmill for exercise or rehabilitation at one point, but you likely have not walked on a treadmill under water. Adding water to treadmill therapy provides a number of benefits, including:

  • Buoyancy — Pets who struggle to support their full weight can often walk on an underwater treadmill before they can walk on land, because the water is buoyant. Buoyancy lessens the weight-bearing load on painful or injured limbs and joints, which allows pets to use them with less discomfort.
  • Resistance — Water’s resistance increases muscle workload without increased weight-bearing, which helps pets improve strength more quickly.
  • Improved balance and stability — Water helps pets maintain balance and stability while walking, and can help unsteady pets gain confidence. 

Underwater treadmill therapy is commonly used to help pets improve muscle strength and regain limb function after leg, neck, or back surgery, and also to aid in athletic conditioning and weight loss. 

If your pet is suffering from a chronic, painful condition, he or she may benefit from physical rehabilitation. Speak with your family veterinarian, or contact us to discuss treatment options.