for your pet

Rehabilitation Exams

Why is a rehabilitative examination different?

A rehabilitation exam is more comprehensive than an exam performed in a general checkup. Although a thorough general examination is also done, additional features of a rehab exam include a comprehensive neurological and orthopedic exam. Dr. Pittman will palpate each joint carefully for signs of soft tissue injury or arthritis and then measure the range of motion. She will also palpate all the major muscle groups and measure their girth to determine if certain muscles are weaker than others. Smaller muscles may indicate denervation of muscle or simply muscle loss if the pet has been shifting weight to the other side of the body to avoid a painful joint. A gait analysis is also done. Finally, a fitness test can be done to determine where your pet needs to improve in order to function better. Once the examination is complete, a home exercise program is made to target your pet’s specific problem areas.

Which animals should receive a rehab examination?

The simple answer is all of them!

Senior pets have special needs. As animals age, they often lose flexibility and strength. Many animals have simply lost their spunk. They may be reluctant to jump on the sofa or hop in the car. They may not demonstrate pain in ways that may be obvious to us, but a careful rehab exam can find the problem areas and then a plan can be tailored to the individual pet.

Canine athletes should have regular rehab checkups to identify muscle imbalances or subtle gait problems before they develop into injury. If these problems are identified early, then solutions can be instituted and the issues corrected prior to problems happening. Mild to moderately competitive dogs should have a rehab checkup at least every 6-12 months. Very competitive animals should be checked every 3 months or more often if problems are identified.

Service and working dogs never stop working. These dogs often carry not only a physical burden, but a deep emotional attachment to their owner, creating tension and worry. These pets benefit greatly from a rehab exam and regular massage treatments to keep them feeling as good as they make us feel!

Overweight animals carry a lot of extra weight on their spine and joints. Frequently, they suffer from pain and sore, tight muscles. The rehab exam is an integral part of our comprehensive obesity management program. It is important to make an animal comfortable prior to beginning a weight loss program.

Pets recovering from injury or surgery need a thorough exam not only to work on problem areas related to the injury, but also those compensatory issues secondary to the original problem.

What types of problems can benefit from rehab?

  • Geriatric patients in need of conditioning
  • Athletes in need of conditioning or targeted muscle training
  • Post-operative patients (FHO, OCD, patellar luxation repair, TPLO, TTA, total hip or elbow replacement, fracture repairs, IVDD, joint arthrodesis, etc)
  • Elbow or hip dysplasia
  • Arthritis
  • Cruciate tears or achilles ruptures
  • Luxation injuries
  • Degenerative myelopathy
  • FCE
  • Brachial plexus injuries
  • Hyperextension injuries
  • Insertional tendinopathies
  • Medial shoulder instability
  • Swimmer puppies or kittens

Rehabilitation Treatments

Underwater treadmill therapy is paramount in the recovery of conditions requiring gait re-training and equally important in our weight loss programs and geriatric conditioning plans. The buoyancy of the water takes the weight off the joints and allows the body to move in a natural motion without pain once again. This can help muscles to become stronger, offering greater support and mobility to the patient. The movement of the treadmill under the feet encourages the limbs to function properly and can “remind” the nerves and muscles how to work. For dogs needing assistance or just encouragement, our therapist is happy to climb right in with your pet and lend a hand. The warm water is also soothing to tired muscles and improves circulation. The treadmill can be inclined for greater challenge. Resistance jets may also be applied to increase the challenge or they may be turned on in the absence of a moving treadmill and used simply as a whirlpool. Canine athletes also come to use the treadmill regularly, whether they are training for an event or simply staying conditioned. Smaller dogs can use the tank as a pool.

Cryotherapy is the application of a cold compress, ice pack, cold compression unit, or ice massage. Cryotherapy reduces inflammation after surgery or injury and can prevent edema, pain, and swelling after exercise.

Heat therapy is used frequently in conjunction with massage and to warm up the muscles prior to stretching. It can also decrease muscle spasm and pain.

Massages are recommended regularly for sporting dogs, working dogs, service dogs, and geriatric patients, but massages can be included in any healthy lifestyle. A good massage therapist can relax muscles, improve blood flow, and allow energy to move freely through the body again. We offer several types of massage depending on the patient needs.

At AWRC, we are proud to offer Class IV LASER therapy provided by Companion. This modality has been shown to release natural endorphins, providing intensive pain relief. It also aids all stages of tissue healing and supports collagen production, greatly speeding up healing of wounds, soft tissue injuries, and minor fractures. It is directly anti-inflammatory because it increases dilation of blood vessels and activates lymphatic drainage. It also stimulates nerve cell regeneration, making it a vital tool in spinal injuries.

Although LASER is most notably used for natural pain relief and wound healing, it has dramatic effects on other common conditions such as hot spots, lick granulomas and other dermatological disorders, ear infections, anal gland inflammations, gingivitis/stomatitis, cystitis, pancreatitis, arthritis, intervertebral disc disease, brachial plexus and other neurological injuries and even limber tail syndrome. At AWRC, we use the LASER on every patient post-operatively to decrease swelling around the incision. We have found that in using the LASER, the pet is far less likely to lick at the incision or experience other common post-operative conditions such as seromas or swelling.

Therapeutic ultrasound uses sound waves to improve blood flow, tissue healing, and also to heat tissues. The heat generated from the therapeutic ultrasound penetrates deeper than other forms of heat, allowing the therapist to work out adhesions and stretch out tight muscles and tendons.

Common conditions treated with therapeutic ultrasound include: releasing taught tendons to provide a better stretch, relaxing tight muscles occurring from injuries (such as iliopsoas strains) or arthritic pain, improving wound and fracture healing, and helping with calcific tendonitis. It is also useful in cases of joint contracture after a limb has been immobilized in a cast.

Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES) is the application of an electrical current over the motor point of a muscle in order to elicit a muscle contraction. It can be used to improve endurance, strength, and function in a weakened muscle and helps with muscle re-education after an injury or disuse. It is frequently used to maintain healthy muscle that has been denervated because of surgery. Electrical stimulation is also used to help with edema management.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is another method of applying electrical current to relieve pain. In addition to decreasing pain and spasm, it also releases endorphins in the body, creating yet another level of comfort. The location of the pads that transmit the current can also achieve different effects. We can choose to place the pads directly over a joint or painful region, over the nerve root that is painful, over trigger points, or even on the opposite limb in cases of phantom pain syndrome.

Therapeutic exercise plans are created for every pet that comes for a rehabilitation exam or geriatric exam and also for any owner wishing to help their pet achieve more wellness at home. Exercises may be used to help with body awareness and balance, core strengthening, muscle and gait re-education after injury or surgery, or just general fitness. Every program is tailor-made to the individual patient. When Dr. Pittman creates a personalized home exercise plan for your pet you will receive an email with pictures and videos of the exercises for your reference, and new exercises can be added to keep your pet’s routine fun and interesting.

Athletic conditioning and injury prevention

One of the most forgotten aspects of veterinary medicine is the proper conditioning of our athletic patients. Our trainers and owners teach the skills of the sport to the dog, but equally important are the conditioning of our heart and muscles. Muscles need to learn “muscle memory,” and they need to develop endurance. The joints need to be flexible and the tendons and ligaments strong. The heart needs regular exercise to function efficiently at an event. Conditioning should make up the vast majority of training for a canine athlete. Over-training a skill causes excessive wear and tear on the body, whereas conditioning muscles to perform the skill strengthens the body. Equally at risk for injury are the “weekend warriors,” those dogs that lie on the sofa all week and then compete on weekends. At AWRC, it is our commitment to promote the importance of conditioning the athlete’s body so that injuries can be prevented.



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