old dog, dog with arthritis, dog arthritis, labrador

Is Old Age an Excuse for Pain and Stiffness in Your Dog?

When I see older clients in my human clinic I am often surprised by how much their severely osteoarthritic knees or hips or back can respond to manual therapy.

Take the knee for example, I get older patients limping in with severe knee pain of recent onset. They’ve previously seen the specialist and have pretty much been told, “come back and see me when your knee pain is bad enough and we’ll go through with your knee replacement”. When I see them their knee looks severely arthritic (they have an obvious look) and it doesn’t move much better. Their muscles are really tight, there may be 50% movement at best, and they’ve often got a torsion through their knee. Despite the severe arthritis these people normally go about their business without too much trouble, but something has just upset their knees normal balance to give them acute pain.

In these cases, it may take a few weeks but the acute pain often settles down once we can get the muscles to release and correct the torsion. Knee replacements are absolutely indicated in these people but their acute knee pain can settle. They still have severe arthritis but its a great reminder that arthritis doesn’t have to cause bad pain or stiffness, and even if there is bad arthritis, manual therapy can help.

Manual therapy doesn’t change the arthritis, but if you’ve got a joint that’s meant to work in flexion and extension (for example, bending and straightening your knee) and the muscles are really tight and there is an imbalance in the joint, it may produce more pressure through one aspect of the joint, causing pain. Take the imbalance away and the pain may settle. Not always, but I’ve seen it enough to know that you’ve got to try it before going for more invasive solutions.

This is how I try to explain manual therapy to people. In simplistic terms, I try to find balance in the musculoskeletal system, both within joints and the surrounding areas. I’m kind of like a mechanic, but my canvas is the body and my tools are my hands.

Now in dogs, treatment with manual therapy is quite new. Whaat, your dog gets a massage? sees the physio? has some osteo? Really…? You treat dogs…no way?

Yes really! Dogs have musculoskeletal systems just like us. They get stiff and sore just like us. They get arthritis. They can display pain without any obvious injury. They can’t say “hey mum, my backs a bit sore”. They just keep going. They may get a bit cranky, just like us when we’re stiff or sore. They may not want to go play. They may be restless. Ask them to go up and down stairs and they may not like it. In and out of the car…have you ever tried to get out of your car with an acute low back or a sore knee?

Throw in a limp and is it their left or right that’s sore? which part of the limb? is it the knee, the hip the ankle, the foot, or maybe even the low back or SI joint?

So you take your dog to the Vet and they rule out the nasties. Scans may show a bit of arthritis or as I sometimes call it “old age”. They give you some drugs and tell you to come back if your dog gets worse. Fantastic, there is nothing serious wrong!

Well, not really…the drugs help a bit but my dog’s just not right. May be its just because they’re getting older…time goes by and it just becomes the new normal. There’s nothing serious wrong but your dogs behaviour is just different. Kind of like you just accepting your neck or back pain.

This is where manual therapy can come in. I’ve been surprised by the number of older dogs I’ve seen who after treatment have almost had a personality change and their posture has also improved. They often sleep the first day which is quite normal after a treatment, but then they find their spark. Some dogs start playing again, they do zoomies, they are more outgoing. They want to go for walks and they’re not stiff after them. They don’t pull up lame like they usually do. It may take a few treatments but its so awesome to see and hear about. This is what makes treating dogs so rewarding!

Its not always the answer and some dogs have some pretty serious health conditions, including severe arthritis. But if I can even help that dog just a little bit then its a win. And if I can’t, at least we’ve tried.

If you would to book your dog in for a treatment, get in contact.

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