By Dr. Erica Kirsch
A large part of our practice on animals involves manual therapy. We have had a lot of success using these techniques to decrease pain and improve function in animals. So what exactly is manual therapy? The American Physical Therapy Association defines manual therapy as:
“A clinical approach utilizing skilled, specific hands-on techniques, including but not limited to manipulation/mobilization, used by the physical therapist to diagnose and treat soft tissues and joint structures for the purpose of modulating pain; increasing range of motion (ROM); reducing or eliminating soft tissue inflammation; inducing relaxation; improving contractile and non-contractile tissue repair, extensibility, and/or stability; facilitating movement; and improving function.”
The realm of manual therapy can encompass many different techniques including mobilization, manipulation, manual traction, massage, stretching, and passive range of motion. Some of these techniques require specific training such as mobilizations, while others are often taught to owners to perform on their dogs, such as passive range of motion.
We know that manual therapy works. There are countless studies in humans that support it’s efficacy in treating musculoskeletal issues in combination with other physical therapy modalities such as exercise and active stretching. Joint mobilizations involve targeted oscillations of joints in specific directions carried out by a trained therapist. These oscillations stimulate nerve fibers in the area and begin a cascade of events that can decrease muscle tone to allow more range of motion, increase blood flow, decrease swelling, and decrease pain. We generally use manual therapy techniques in the early stages of rehab in order to decrease pain and normalize movement before we ask a dog to perform an exercise. I’m not going to ask a dog to sit if they don’t yet have the range of motion in their knee joint to do it correctly.
Most dogs that come into our clinic can benefit from manual therapy in some way. Manual therapy can be used to treat neck pain, back pain, disc disease, arthritis, cruciate ligament tears, neurological conditions, and many others. It’s sometimes good to know that there are more options than just surgery or pain medication. Our hands can heal too!