Animal Wellness Magazine, January/February 2003
Volume 5, Issue 1
REHABILITATION can add years to your
"I believe canine physical therapy and rehabilitation will branch out into specialties and be as integral a part of veterinary medicine as physical therapy is to human medicine," says Dr. McCauley.
Apparently, other animal healers agree. More than twenty veterinarians in the U.S. have left general practices to devote their skills to animal rehabilitation.
"Animal rehabilitation and physical therapy is a vastly expanding specialty," says Denis J. Marcellin-Little, DEDV, Assistant Professor of Orthopedic at North Carolina State University. "We have known the value of physical therapy for many years and are now doing research that theoretically proves its value in veterinary medicine," he says. The proof is in the results; with physical therapy the animals get better.
Animals frequently suffer from neurological and orthopedic conditions which can leave them with decreased mobility and limited ability to perform normal activities. Regardless of the method of treatment, either surgical or conservative, physical therapy is an integral part of the healing process, says Dr. Marcellin-Little. "Rehabilitation can often mean the difference between success and failure."
Beyond painkillers and discomfort
Approximately two-thirds of dogs undergoing rehabilitation are suffering from chronic problems such as osteoarthritis. "The leading orthopedic problems in our companion animals are hip dysplasia and torn cranial cruciate ligaments followed by luxations and trauma," says Dr. Marcellin-Little.
While the use of vibrational medicine is often more limited in this very mainstream field than in other medical fields, chiropractic and acupuncture have made inroads. However, in my own rehabilitation work, I have found that integrating allopathic and holistic medicine can shorten healing time and enhance wellness for our four-legged patients. Some of the modalities to keep in mind include:
Nutrition: A well-rounded rehabilitation program starts with good nutrition. With degenerative diseases, it is necessary to biologically rebuild. In addition, weight management also plays an important role so painful joints don't experience unnecessary stress. Begin with a high quality diet that can be tailored with supplements. For arthritic conditions, it's important to produce an alkaline environment, which allows the condition to heal. Omega-3 and omega-6 linoleic fatty acids help lubricate joints. Vitamins C and E work together to rebuild cartilage and also limit free radicals, which are partly responsible for inflammation. Glucosamine sulfate fights against inflammation and can help build cartilage. Apple cider vinegar has been known to alleviate the pain of arthritis. Finally, avoid feeding nightshade vegetables such as green peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes. For acute conditions (usually resulting from traumas such as accidental fractures or surgery) a diet rich in silica, particularly in rolled oats, is essential for bone maintenance.
Herbs: There are many herbs used in the treatment of arthritis. One of the most effective is Devil's claw, which reduces inflammation in degenerative conditions.
Homeopathy: can help improve healing and manage pain. Arnica is an excellent first aid remedy. It is used for physical and emotional shock and injury. It promotes healing of injured tissues and regulates bleeding. Symphytum, also called knitbone, is used to promote bone healing after a fracture. Rhus toxicodendron is used if there is stiffness when getting up (cold and wet aggravate pain). Bryonia is recommended when pain increases with movement.
Massage: One of the more pleasurable rehabilitation modalities, there are many different techniques employed in massage that address sore and painful muscles. Gentle strokes allow body movement to be more fluid. TTouch effectively helps animals deal with pain.
Acupuncture: Those who practice this Oriental medicine believe that the vital life force called "chi" runs through twelve main pathways called meridians. Each meridian has an energetic function. Small needles are placed along these pathways at acupuncture points. Acupuncture has been used successfully in management of both acute and chronic pain. Today we understand the mechanism of acupuncture better than we understand that of many widely used drugs.
Chiropractic: A method of care based on the body's innate ability to heal. This ability controls all body functions. The body's communication runs through the nervous system pathways so it is essential that the body alignment be sound. The alignment is achieved by manually adjusting the spine.
Using the tools of the trade
Therapeutic exercise is the foundation of any rehabilitative process. "Humans and animals are moving creatures," explains Dr. David Levine, Associate Professor of Physical Therapy at the University of Tennessee. After surgery there can be pain and discomfort. Reduced activity can cause joint stiffness, muscle atrophy and generalized weakness as well as decreased flexibility. Physical therapy can help prevent these conditions and improve functional outcomes. Although post surgery your animal companion will follow a natural healing process, animals heal much faster with physical therapy. The tools of the physical therapy trade include:
In addition to various therapies, veterinarians and therapists use appliances for acute or chronic care. These appliances are growing in popularity as human caregivers seek out alternatives to euthanasia.
Splints keep the leg in normal walking position and allow for increased weight bearing of the affected limb. They also prevent the knuckling associated with nerve paralysis, and reduce contractor problems.
Carts, "animal wheel chairs", are used for dogs with rear end paralysis. These carts allow for independence and help an animal live with dignity. Carts are custom made to an animal's measurement.
Time is a factor
While therapists have more tools at their fingertips than ever before, these professionals stress the importance of immediate post operative treatment. "The problem is we are often getting animals too late," says Dr. Neal Silvula, who uses integrative medicine at his Dancing Dog Animal Wellness Center in Rock Creek, Ohio. After an injury animals will take the road of least resistance. They often develop many compensatory changes over time. Early intervention is important in the rehabilitative process.
So, when choosing a rehabilitation facility or physical therapist for your animal companion where do you start and what do you look for?
First, do your homework. To be an advocate for your animal companion it is important that you understand the nature of your animal's condition. Your veterinarian will engage you differently if he/she feels that you have knowledge and understanding of the procedure and the desired outcome. You will be part of the rehabilitation team.
Ideally, your dog's rehabilitation program will be in a full-service facility with a team-oriented holistic approach. A licensed veterinarian and a licensed physical therapist head up the team, which is rounded out with a chiropractor, and acupuncturist, hydro therapists, licensed massage therapists, and technicians knowledgeable in electrical stimulation, alpha stimulation, ultrasound, thermal agents, goniometry, and splints. Animals can benefit from a combination of therapies. Each dog's care plan should reflect the animal's individual needs.
Of course, rehabilitation requires a financial and time commitment. Fee structures vary greatly from city to city and many facilities offer a variety of comprehensive plans. Commit to a treatment plan that is within your budget and time constraints.
Remember that the true value of the therapist is his/her trained hands and skillful eye. Although knowledge of technique and body mechanics is vital, many believe that the best therapists are the ones who also have an intuitive and creative sense as well. One of the biggest challenges for these professionals is getting the pain-ridden animal to perform beneficial activities and exercises. The therapeutic activities need to be fun and simple to keep the animal engaged.
Animal rehabilitation is a client-driven field for those who want the best for their companion animals. Using integrative medicine and the tools of the rehabilitation trade, your animal can enjoy a productive and loving life for years to com.