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What is Canine Physiotherapy

Most people have heard of the physiotherapy profession in relation to the human medical and rehabilitation field, however many people still have not heard of, let alone had any experience of the veterinary physiotherapist. Human physiotherapy has been around for many decades (some may even argue centuries) as use of soft tissue mobilisation techniques, such as massage, and hydrotherapies have been around since the time of Hippocrates. Veterinary Physiotherapy is a relatively newer profession, but has been around for over 30 years.

Over the last couple of decades veterinary medicine and surgery has surged forwards with continuing advances in surgical techniques and medical knowledge. As a result, veterinary patients are undergoing more complex surgical procedures, surviving more severe medical conditions and generally living for longer. The aftercare and rehabilitation strategies therefore also need to advance to keep up with veterinary surgeons’ skills, and this is where the veterinary physiotherapist plays an essential role.

So what is physiotherapy exactly and how can it be used to help the veterinary patient?

One definition is; ‘Physiotherapy uses physical approaches to promote, maintain and restore physical, psychological and social well-being’. This is the definition given for physiotherapy within the human medical world, however it still holds true and accurate for the veterinary patient.

Following any sort of health issue, whether it is a medical condition, or intervention for an orthopaedic or neurological condition, many veterinary patients are significantly affected with regards to their function. Recumbency (this means lying down or resting) – whether or not it is because of an inability following severe medical illness, pain, or enforced by the surgeon following complex surgery – will certainly lead to muscle wasting and tightness in muscles and joints, if not other complications involving the cardiovascular, respiratory and psychological systems.

The Veterinary Physiotherapist can utilise different hands-on skills with the aim to promote and speed up recovery to good independent function, maintain and prevent secondary preventable complications developing and essentially restore the veterinary patient to good functional status.

What physiotherapy strategies can be used?

Physiotherapy strategies utilise the combination of different treatment techniques including:

  • Movement Therapies; ranging from passive range of movement of limbs and joints (ie movement without ‘effort’), to assisted walking, to the obstacle course for the very advanced patient
  • Manual Therapies; including hands-on graded mobilisation techniques to loosen joint stiffness or pain
  • Soft Tissue Techniques; including massage techniques and myofascial release techniques aimed at loosening tensions in and between soft tissues. These different techniques can be used in both the land-based and water-based environments, such as the hydrotherapy setting, and application of such exercise regimes and hands-on techniques have consistently been demonstrated to improve the physical function of the veterinary patient

Application of physiotherapy treated techniques in the veterinary patient requires an in depth understanding of the patient’s anatomy, physiology and movement patterning, as well as typical behaviours and communication strategies. With these key points of knowledge, the therapist should be able to apply an effective physiotherapy treatment regime in most

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