Hydro-treadmill therapy in veterinary rehabilitation is the use of an underwater treadmill for strengthening and re-education of the dog's limbs. Hydro-treadmill therapy was originally developed for rehabilitating racehorses in the 1970s. Until the mid-'80s, this treatment option was limited to horses. In the mid-'80s the hydro-treadmill became available for human patients. In 1998, TOPS Vet Rehab introduced the world to the use of the hydro-treadmill for canine rehabilitation, thus providing a new rehabilitation tool for canine patients.
Hydro-treadmill therapy provides the ability to strengthen the patient's muscles in an environment of little to no pressure on the joints, due to the buoyancy of the water. When placed in a warm water environment, it also increases flexibility, mobility, and contractility of the muscles, as well as circulation.
The benefits of the hydro-treadmill include:
- Earlier return to exercise post-surgically
- Strengthening of the muscles surrounding painful joints in arthritic patients
Importantly, it is frequently observed that an animal not using a limb on land will use it in the water. When the patient walks on the hydro-treadmill, they tend to move their limbs using an exaggerated range of motion, providing additional therapeutic benefits. An important additional benefit of this treatment method versus traditional hydrotherapy is that the variables (speed, resistance, and depth) can be controlled which allows for a consistently progressive therapy plan. It also allows the therapists to introduce the patient to the water in a slow, controlled manner, alleviating fear which helps the patient relax, and consequently improves the results of the therapy session. Finally, the hydro-treadmill allows us to combine other rehabilitation therapies (ie passive range of motion, massage, chiropractic) with the therapeutic benefits of the water. At TOPS Vet Rehab, our hydro-treadmill is submerged in a pool, which allows us to add whirlpool jets, which provide resistance during exercise and massage following exercise.