Here are some common conditions physiotherapy can be used to treat. Click on the condition to read more about it and how physiotherapy can help.

 

Hip dysplasia

 

A developmental condition affecting one or both hips causing malformation of the normal ‘ball and socket’ hip joint.  These changes lead to pain and arthritis.  Clinical signs commonly start around 6 - 12 months of age and can include stiffness, reluctance to jump and limping.  The condition can either be managed without surgery or with surgery, such as total hip replacement.  Physiotherapy is a useful additional treatment in either situation.  With conservative non-surgical management physiotherapy can help to reduce pain, strengthen muscles, improve hip movement and improve gait abnormalities.  Physiotherapy can also be used following surgery to help reduce swelling, reduce pain and strengthen muscle mass, all helping with the post operative rehabilitation.  

Elbow dysplasia

 

A developmental condition affecting one of both elbows causing malformation of the joint and unequal weight loading over the joint.  These changes lead to arthritis, but also other conditions such as small fractures.  The most common clinical sign is lameness in the affected leg, with this often showing as a head nod.  Treatment options can be non-surgical or surgical, and physiotherapy can be a useful adjunctive treatment in either situation to reduce pain and swelling, maintain/increase elbow mobility and maintain/increase muscle mass.  

 

Cranial Cruciate ligament disease (CCLD)

 

The cranial cruciate ligament is a ligament within the knee.  In people it is called the anterior cruciate ligament.  It is a tough tissue attaching the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shin bone), helping to stabilise the knee.  The ligament usually degenerates over time eventually causing limping in the affected leg.  This condition can be treated with or without surgery.  If the condition is managed conservatively without surgery, physiotherapy can be used to help protect the knee joint and prevent further injury to the joint, especially focussing on maintaining the muscles around the knee.  If surgery is performed physiotherapy can be used to assist with comfort post operatively and to maintain mobility preventing muscle wastage.  

 

 

Patella luxation

 

The kneecap should glide up and down within a groove at the front of the tibia (shin bone) during extension and flexion of the knee.  In some dogs the kneecap dislocates (luxates) out of this groove, causing lameness as the knee cannot be extended.  This can lead to varying amounts of pain and arthritis within the knee joint.  The most common sign is intermittent ‘skipping’ lameness of the affected leg.  Patella luxation can be treated either non-surgically or surgically, and physiotherapy can be helpful with either treatment by making the animal more comfortable by strengthening the muscles around the knee, maintaining range of motion in the joint and preventing muscle atrophy. 

Vestibular disease

The vestibular system is a sensory system responsible for maintaining the sense of balance and spatial orientation for coordinating movement with balance.  Vestibular disease is an abnormality affecting this system causing a variety of signs, including loss of balance, disorientation, head tilt and jerking eye movements.  Various underlying conditions can causes these signs, such as inner ear infections, but is common in older dogs with no apparent underlying cause.   Decreased activity is common with vestibular disease, which contributes to stiffness and a reduction in joint mobility, and physiotherapy can be used as a supportive treatment to encourage movement, thereby reducing these side effects. Affected animals can also have muscle weakness, which can be improved with physiotherapy aiding to a smoother recovery. 

 

Wobbler Syndrome

 

This is a condition affecting the spine within the neck, and causing an interruption of nerve signals from the brain to the body.  Various abnormalities can be present, such as intervertebral discs pressing against the spine.  The most common sign if a wobbly, uncoordinated gait but signs vary depending on the severity of the condition.  Treatment options can be divided into non-surgical and surgical, and physiotherapy can be a useful additional treatment for either option.  It will help maintain mobility in the joints and muscles throughout the body and help with gait retraining and balance. Pain relieving physiotherapy techniques can also be used to ensure optimum comfort levels for the animal. 

 

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)

 

IVDD is the most common spinal disease in dogs, and is seen occasionally in cats.  Intervertebral discs are located between the spinal vertebrae and act as shock absorbers and allow movement of the spinal column.  IVDD results in an affected disc compressing the spine, affecting the transmission of nerve signs beyond the site of compression.  Clinical signs can therefore vary depending on the severity and location of the IVDD, but common signs include spinal pain and back leg weakness.  Treatment options can be non-surgical or surgical, and physiotherapy can be a useful adjunctive treatment for either option.  Physiotherapy can be used to help maintain spine mobility, easing tension of muscles surrounding the spine and helping with core strength. It is also a key therapy for reducing muscle spasm and pain, thereby reducing inflammation and enhancing flexibility within the soft tissues surrounding the spine.  Physiotherapy also aids in sensory stimulation which effects the nerves and responses throughout the body. All of this in turn aids in recovering to normal spinal function. 

Lumbosacral (LS) disease

 

The LS joint is the juncture of the last lumbar vertebra with the sacrum, where the spinal column meets the pelvis.  It is a highly mobile joint and is therefore predisposed to wear-and-tear diseases.  LS disease can be caused by a variety of changes affecting this joint, including protrusion of the intervertebral disc causing compression of nerves.  Signs vary depending on the severity of the changes, but include lower back pain, hind limb weakness and urinary/faecal incontinence.  Treatment options can be non-surgical or surgical, and physiotherapy can be used with either option.  Physiotherapy can help with reduction in inflammation around the LS joint helping to control pain. It can also help reduce muscle tension and strengthen the surrounding muscles, which will provide greater support for the joint. 

 

Fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE)

 

FCE is a sudden onset condition, following blockage of blood supply to an area of the spinal cord.  Signs are very variable but usually includes neurological deficits, such as weakness, affecting one side of the body more than the other.  Treatment is through supportive care and physiotherapy.  

 

Degenerative myelopathy (DM)

 

DM is a condition causing progressive paralysis of the hind limbs in older dogs.  Initial signs include hindlimb weakness and incoordination, progressing onto hindlimb paralysis and urinary/faecal incontinence.  The condition is unfortunately irreversible and progressive, but physiotherapy can be used to help maintain and strengthen muscles, improve co-ordination and reduce pain. 

 

Fracture repairs

 

Fractures can be treated surgically or managed conservatively, without surgery. Physiotherapy is an important part of the rehabilitation following a fracture. It can help the animal feel more comfortable and provide support with trying to remain mobile throughout the recovery. It can help with a combination of pain relieving techniques and this can reduce inflammation and further help the animal get back on it's feet which will reduce stiffness and muscle atrophy. 

Osteoarthritis (OA)

OA is a progressive and painful disease which involves the joint becoming inflamed, cartilage being destroyed and eventually bony changes which leads to pain and lameness in many animals. There are many ways to help with the symptoms of OA which can involve medication, weight loss and physiotherapy. Physiotherapy can help reduce pain and inflammation, improve strength and stability and improve the affected joints range of motion, all of which helps with overall mobility. 

Soft Tissue Injuries

Soft tissue injuries can be caused by  strains, scar tissue from old injuries, and conditions such as tendon problems and muscle tears. They can be caused by trauma and can lead to muscle tension, pain and reduction in performance and mobility. Physiotherapy can help with breaking down abnormal tissue, reduction in muscle spasm, pain relief and improving range of motion. All of this will assist with recovery and reducing pain. Sporting Injuries are also common reasons of soft tissue injuries. They may show signs of lameness, shortened stride, hesitating at doing exercises, stiffness and behavioural changes. With sporting and working animals they may require more regular checks to ensure they are fit enough for their work and if they have had a previous injury to get them back to their peak condition so they are ready to get back to it. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Xray of a hip affected by hip dysplasia
CT scan showing IVDD at C6-C7