In the present human medical world it would be very rare for a surgeon not to recommend some form of rehabilitation or physiotherapy following a procedure. This is an important aspect of regaining full recovery and tissue function. So, it should be for our pets too.
Rehab for pets comes in many forms including stretching and exercise routines, microcurrent therapy, laser, massage and soft tissue body work, chiropractic, and water therapy. The program can be simple or tiered to adequately fit the age, breed, expectations for return to performance, and your ability to provide time and investment. It is fun to get the family involved with the overall program as at home therapy creates greater and more rapid gains. Even if your pet has not had surgery, there are conditions that will benefit from physical rehabilitation. A pet with arthritis, advanced age, weak muscles, nerve deficits, any that are overweight, or even athletes working regularly at their sport can all improve by having all joints in motion and a regular stretching exercise routine.
Without adequate pre-exercise massage techniques, warm-up, and post-exercise ground stretches, a canine athlete could be at risk for an injury. Stiffness is a symptom and reaction to pain or discomfort, be it from overworking unprepared muscle groups (sore muscles), arthritis, spinal bone instability or fixation and even dental malocclusion. Any of these etiologies can lead to a tissue’s inability to stretch. If the tissue cannot adequately stretch, then neither can the pet. Massaging the body and properly stretching the joints will loosen muscles and connective tissue, sending signals to the mechanoreceptors about the joints and their capacity to flex and extend. Massage will also help to eliminate toxins and lactic acid by improving circulation to the tissue, further reducing soreness.
Passive or relaxed stretching is the most common type used with stretching exercises in animals as the person controls the motion and positioning desired. Slow, relaxed stretching is useful in relieving spasms in muscles that are healing after an injury. Relaxed stretching is also good for “cooling down” after a workout and helps reduce post workout muscle fatigue and soreness.
- Anyone can learn to be effective and safe when stretching their pet. Improved flexibility is achieved when stretching becomes a regular part of the athlete’s routine. If you are looking to improve balance, balls are a fun addition and they create a variety of options for working with your young or older dog. Here are a few key points:
- Find an exercise program that is recommended by a veterinarian or professional therapist. I have a DVD called “Fitness in Motion® Stretching & Exercises for Dogs” available at www.AvaFrick.com. With this you can learn how to effectively deliver exercises for all zones of the body along with ones designed for specific conditions and how to successfully use balls.
- Understand the goals or purpose and how to effectively deliver the exercises.
- Take the time to do them correctly (no short cuts).
- Always start conservatively then gradually increase the length of stretch, the angle or height of the stretch, and the number or repetitions.
- Pay attention to the behavior or response(s) your pet gives with each stretch.
- Keep notes on the changes you see and periodically re-evaluate posture, movement and balance from a distance.
A good stretch will be comfortable and effective if you follow the above steps. A “bad” stretch will be met with resistance or failure to make any positive gain in flexibility, range of motion, or performance.