Canine Physical Therapy Post Surgery - Salt Lake Animal Physical Therapy
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Canine Physical Therapy Post Surgery

In this article, we explore how physical therapy boosts your dog’s recovery post-surgery.
As with humans, dogs require much more than rest alone to recover from physical and mental trauma post-surgery. While surgeries relieve the dogs of various problems such as arthritis, fractures, ACL ruptures, spinal issues, etc., they leave them in stress, pain, and weak. Some common difficulties canines face post-surgeries include lack of balance, restricted movement and mobility, inflammation, pain and lameness in the operated area, and weakness. Although medications can help, they are not enough for regaining strength. Dogs cannot fully recover from surgeries by just resting. Therefore, they require physical therapy. Canine physical therapy has been adapted from physical therapy for humans and employs similar principles since the anatomy of dogs is quite similar to that of a human. Canine physical therapy has proven to be the most effective way for dogs to regain maximum mobility and stability after surgeries. Dogs not only lose their physical capability to perform several actions and activities but are also affected psychologically, as they cannot enjoy their favorite activities such as playing, running, or breaking stuff. Physical Therapy addresses each one of these concerns by using various exercises and therapies to help canines heal and live freely and happily like earlier.

Following are some of the therapies that a physical therapist might perform on your dog to help him/her heal –

  • Range of motion exercise or Joint Mobilization
  • Cryotherapy or Cold Therapy
  • Thermotherapy or Warm Therapy
  • Acupuncture or Dry Needling
  • Massage Therapy
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Balance and coordinate exercises
  • Laser Therapy
  • Therapeutic Ultrasound
  • Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation
  • Stretching exercise
  • Exercises for weight management 

Why is physical therapy necessary after surgery in dogs?

  1. To gain mobility and range of motion – Regaining mobility, coordination, and balance of movements is the first step. Surgeries leave our canine companions in pain that further restricts the function of the operated body part. Passive range of motion exercises and stretching can immensely help in regaining movement.
  2. Pain relief – Another benefit of physical therapy post-surgery is that it helps to reduce pain. Pain in canines leads to weakness and reduced activity, negatively affecting their mood and causing sadness and depression. Massage therapy, dry needling, and passive range of motion are some techniques that not only reduce pain but calm our furry friend recouping from post-surgery stress.
  3. Reducing inflammation – Physical therapy post-surgery also helps in reducing inflammation and swelling and speeding up the healing process of the surrounding tissues. Therapies useful for this are- Cryotherapy and Thermotherapy. Laser therapy can also be applied to help the soft tissues heal.
  4. Strengthening the muscles and building muscle mass – Surgeries make canines weaker. Lameness often appears in their movements. Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation can be very useful in helping the muscle to activate so proper strengthening can occur.
  5. Improving weight-bearing and reducing weight if needed – Since surgery leaves the canines weak and having restricted movement, they cannot bear weight on the operated body part. Physical therapy comes into play here by gradually exposing the treated body part to activity and promoting weight-bearing. In many cases, canines may also require to lose weight as obesity can further cause health issues. Physical therapy employs various exercises to help dogs lose their unhealthy fat, resulting in improved quality of life overall. 

Good physical therapists also provide you with structured at-home exercises to help your dog gradually move from inactivity to an active and healthy life.

Different techniques and exercises of physical therapy are employed at distinct stages post-surgery. Research has shown that during the initial period, which is the first 72 hours, physical therapy should focus on reducing pain and inflammation, improving range of motion or mobility extension, and healing the soft tissues. Cold and warm therapies, massage therapy, joint mobilization, laser therapy, and therapeutic exercises are more suitable during these hours. After these first 72 hours, physical therapy moves into developing strength, regaining balance and coordination, and restoring regular bodily movements and functions. For this purpose, methods like hydrotherapy and neuromuscular electrical stimulation are employed. Techniques such as therapeutic ultrasound, massage, and acupuncture/needling help calm and relax the canine. In this way, physical therapy helps your dogs restore their movement by strengthening their muscles and reducing pain.

Last words…

No matter the nature of the surgery, complex or simple, physical therapy for dogs is a time-tested proven method to boost your dog’s recovery dramatically. So ensure you take your dog to a physical therapist post-surgery. But not any physical therapist, but someone who has a way with dogs, and is trusted by locals. With some faith and hard work, you can help your canine get back to breaking things, making a mess, and doing what they do best, adding joy to your life!