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Rehabbing the Canine Athlete: The Role of Massage, Plus Key Vocabulary

The rehabilitation process in dogs includes improving proprioception, balance and strength, to name a few. Cadence is now six weeks post-operation from her lumbosacral stabilization, and well into her rehab program. Each week, we visit our rehab center (Sound Veterinary Rehabilitation Center) and receive a water treadmill session, new rehab exercises - AKA homework - and answer any questions I have about our previous homework. My job? Have Cadence perform these exercises twice daily. In addition, of course, massage plays an important role in our rehab process.

Massage remains a useful tool in the rehab process for many reasons and provides invaluable information as Cadence builds strength and learns to use her body correctly.

For example, during our last massage session, I noticed a couple things: Her right gastrocnemius was hypertonic and her left latissimus dorsi had spasm-ing. Those observations reveal where in her body she might be overworking and, consequently, where she may be weak. We know her right hind to be the stronger one in this equation, and the "core" of the hind end (the lumbosacral space) was weakened temporarily via surgery, so it is no surprise that a muscle lower on her "strong leg" is overworked.

So, what do I even mean when I say things like "hypertonic" and "spasm?" Good questions! Here I'll give you a rundown of a few terms I use frequently in sessions and as I talk about Cadence's body in the rehab process.

  1. Hypertonicity: Being in a state of abnormally high tension.

  2. Spasm: The sudden, involuntary contraction of a muscle.

  3. Hypotonicity: Having less than normal tone or tension.

In Cadence's case, I know there are hypertonic muscles in her right hind. I also know her left hind has hypotonicity present because of the palpable difference. We added an additional exercise targeting her left hind to address this continued difference. And as she progresses and builds strength in her weaker areas, it will help take additional load off the overworked areas. In the meantime, I will continue to monitor and provide manual relief.

Massage gives us much insight into the health of our dogs. Stay tuned as we share more! In the meantime, catch up on our other posts here.

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