By Mandi Blackwelder, DVM CCRP

Yes, we have lots of neat gadgets with red lights and beeping noises we can use to rehabilitate your pet.   And yes, they will help, but the mainstay of physical therapy is simple and easy. It is manual therapies: how the practitioner moves your pet’s tissues. And the best way to do that is with our hands.

Passive Range of Motion (PROM): Simply, moving the joint or limb through its normal range of motion without active muscle contraction and without weight bearing.

  • Why is this important?

Simply….bodies were made to move. The way that blood flows into the limb, and lymph and toxins flow out of the limb, is triggered by movement. So even a paralyzed limb needs to move.   With movement, sensation is triggered and reflexes are reminded of their purpose. With movement, muscles stretch through their range and remain fluid instead of contracting into scar tissue.

  • How is it done?

Very simply, holding the limb and moving it for the pet in its normal pattern. It is sometimes combined with stretching to attempt to return range of motion to an area where it has been diminished.

  • For example?

After knee surgery, patients should have PROM within 2 hours of surgery, moving the leg in a bicycling fashion. This movement increases blood flow to the knee bringing in healing factors for the immune system and delivering pain medications to the painful area more effectively. It increases lymph flow allowing drainage of swelling. It stretches out muscles that have been in an unnaturally motionless state during anesthesia reducing stiffness as the patient becomes active again.

Active Range of Motion (AROM): The animal moving its own limb without weight bearing.

  • Why is this important?

Muscles and nerve patterns are coordinated for movement in a limb. If muscles can continue to do their job, even in a limb that can’t yet bear weight, the stronger and more coordinated it will be when the pet is back up on her feet. Active range of motion has all the benefits of PROM as well.

  • How is it done?

Two main ways – by reflex or by resistance. A reflex movement is one that requires no conscious control. Think of the reflex when the doctor hits your knee with a reflex hammer. That reflex requires nerves to fire and muscles to contract whether you are aware of moving it or not. Resistance is pulling gently on the limb and having the pet pull to get it back.

  • For example?

For a paralyzed pet that is recovering from back surgery, we will pinch their toes enough to induce the withdrawl reflex. The knee will bend and the hip will flex inducing all the muscles in the leg to contract. Even though at this point the pet may have no awareness that its toes are being touched, its muscles are maintaining as much as possible so they are ready for the next phase of recovery.

Massage: The rubbing and kneading of muscles and joints of the body with the hands.

  • Why is it important? We all think of massage as a relaxing day at the spa, but the medical benefits of pain relief, toxin disruption, and increased blood flow are well studies and documented. The relaxation can help soothe a pet that is fearful of their pain. Massage can be done simply for these reasons to an affected area, as well as treat compensatory discomfort.
  • For example? An animal that is limping on her right front leg usually has knots of tissue in the left lower back and hip region. Massage of the injured area and also releasing the compensatory knots, called “trigger points,” will create better movement and comfort over all.

Joint mobilization: Movement within the confines of the joint itself stretching the joint capsule and releasing immobile tissues of the joint.

** Please note: Joint mobilization should ONLY be done by a practitioner that has received training and has experience and not on an injury that is not yet diagnosed.