What is Veterinary Physiotherapy?

Veterinary physiotherapy is a science based profession, which takes an holistic approach to each patient by providing functional assessment following veterinary referral. Physiotherapy for animals can be used alongside veterinary care to help in the treatment or long-term management of many musculoskeletal or neurological injuries and conditions. It can assist rehabilitation of the animal, with the aims of reducing pain, improving movement, and restoring normal muscle control and function. Physiotherapy can also be used for performance development of the animal athlete, helping to try to minimise the risk of injury whilst maximising the performance of competitive or working animals – NAVP.

During each session, I will watch your animal walk and trot up as standard. If you are concerned about an aspect of your horses ridden work or work at the canter then it is essential that I am able to look at these gaits as well; providing it is safe to do so. In some horses, issues are only identified at the canter or under saddle which is why it is so important that these gaits are not forgotten. Following dynamic assessment, I will palpate and identify restrictions in range of motion (ROM) throughout the horse/dogs body. This provides me with a complete picture about your animal before beginning any physiotherapy so that I can provide a service that is going to be of the greatest benefit to your animal. On completion of the session, I may leave you with follow up exercises, simple massage or stretches if I feel that your animal will benefit from.

Physiotherapy encompasses a variety of electro therapies alongside manual therapy to reduce tension and pain. This will promote improved welfare and performance. Electro therapies involved in physiotherapy may include:

  • Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF)
  • Laser
  • Transcutaneous electric stimulation (TENS)
  • Heat/Cold
  • Ultrasound
  • Neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES)

After targeted use of an electrotherapy, manual therapy will be used to further address areas of discomfort. Manual therapies incorporated into a session may include, massage, soft tissue mobilisation, stretching, passive range of motion and positioning exercises, as well as focal point work (stress and trigger points) to provide optimal support for animals working in every discipline. Physiotherapy can be beneficial for animals of all levels; ranging from competition horses/dogs to leisure horses and pets. It is important that every session is specific to the animal being worked on. Every animal is different and must be treated as such.

What are the beneficial effects of massage?

  • Increased blood flow
  • Reduced pain
  • Reduced stress
  • Decreased muscle hypertonicity
  • Improved lymphatic drainage
  • Increased soft tissue extensibility
  • Improved muscle symmetry
  • Increased joint range of motion (ROM)

What are the beneficial effects of stretching?

  • Increased joint ROM
  • Reduced pain
  • Improved flexibility
  • Increased blood flow to muscles
  • Stretching also helps to prevent musculoskeletal injury.

Key signs to look out for which may mean your horse would benefit from physiotherapy:

  • Reluctance to accept to contact or inconsistent head carriage.
  • Bucking, rearing, explosive behaviour or excessive spooking under saddle or on the ground.
  • Change in temperament, such as increased anxiety or aggression.
  • Aggression aimed at specific objects or experiences such as biting when saddled or bridled. Avoidance of the bridle all together.
  • Disliking being brushed or touched.
  • ‘Laziness’
  • Being unable to work well in straight lines.
  • Struggling to perform what is asked of them, i.e. taking up the incorrect canter leads or refusal of jumps/knocking poles.
  • Toe dragging or stumbling.
  • Uneven muscle tone.
  • Preference to work on one rein over the other.
  • Decline in performance when the horse previously worked very well. Or if the standard of performance is seemingly unable to improve beyond a certain level.
  • Hollowing of the back during ridden exercise.

Key signs to look out for which may mean your dog would benefit from physiotherapy:

  • Pre-diagnosed conditions such as Osteoarthritis/spondylosis/hip dysplasia.
  • Stiffness when getting up
  • Struggling to get in and out of the car/ on and off the sofa
  • Slowing down in their old age
  • Knocking jumps at competitions
  • Reluctance to perform certain movements
  • Tiring quickly during walks when they never used to struggle
  • Preferring to stay at home rather than go for walks

Remember, prehabilitation is always better than having to undergo months of rehabilitation!


Disclaimer

Physiotherapy is not a substitute for correct veterinary care. Veterinary permission must be sought before a session can take place. This is in accordance with the veterinary surgeons act (1966) and the veterinary surgeons exemptions order (1962). Anything identified on dynamic assessment, i.e. lameness, that has not yet been seen to by a veterinarian will mean that the horse/dog cannot receive physiotherapy. Equally, there are some instances where physiotherapy is not appropriate such as areas of skin irritation and wounds etc. Should physiotherapy be considered inappropriate then it will be recommended that you seek veterinary advice. You should always seen Veterinary advice in emergency situations.