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Rehabbing the Canine Athlete: The Role of Proprioception

Week 3 summary comes at you a bit late, as rehabbing a dog post major surgery proves to be time consuming. Last week, Cadence had her second water treadmill session and received two new rehab exercises. Cadence has a lifetime of compensation patterns along with her recent surgery to which we can attribute her imbalance and strength discrepancies.

This week in our exercises, her imbalance between the strength in her left and right hindlimbs became glaringly apparent. She holds more weight on one versus the other, consistently. Her left hind has a weakness that our rehab professionals will help us address in the coming weeks, and I'm using range of motion and massage to help as well. What I want to talk about first, though, is proprioception. This is a key principal to understand as we delve deeper into the subject of massage and bodywork during the rehab process.

What is proprioception? The dictionary defintion reads, "The unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation arising from stimuli within the body itself." Basically, dogs have sensory receptors that detect where the body is in relation to the space around it and then communicate this to the brain. A dog with a neurological deficit, like Cadence, has compromised proprioception, or less awareness of where her affected limbs are in association to the space around her.

Everything we're doing post-op revolves around the goal of reeducating those nerve pathways so Cadence can maneuver her body through space efficiently and equally between sides. Our bodies (both canine and human!) store information on how to perform basic physical tasks that are unconscious to us. Cadence wasn't able to use her hind end the same way as most dogs, and even with the problem surgically improved, "muscle memory" holds onto her previous patterns. This is why we utilize tools like caveletti exercises, passive range of motion, massage and more to create a better movement pattern. Of course, this is simplifying it. Strengthening plays a huge role, too.

With Cadence specifically, she'll continue to carry more weight on her right hind versus her left if we do not address the strength differences (in both her hind and front) and reeducate each limb. It's a journey and we're officially half way through the eight-week rest period. We are on our way, minute-by-minute, to the active lifestyle she craves. Another rehab session coming up tomorrow, and another related post later this week.

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