by Lindsay Cope, Paw Vida Holistic Therapies and Member of the Canine Massage Guild
When I first treated Fleur, she was a 6-year-old rescue who had been living with her current owners for 3 and a half years. Because of a tattoo in her ear, and that she’d been handed into the rescue when found living in a shed in Ireland, it was assumed she was an ex- or failed racing dog. Fleur’s next stop was a rescue centre in Oxford, and then to a foster family in Doncaster before finding her forever home in Somerset with Becky and Pete, their son Owen, and their two cats. You could say she was well travelled!
Becky soon noticed that Fleur presented with an intermittent right forelimb lameness, which seemed to be brought on and exacerbated by exercise. Sensibly, a visit to the vet revealed that she seemed to be in pain when her right elbow joint was fully extended whilst her right shoulder joint was flexed, leading to a tentative veterinary diagnosis of a Bicep Brachii tendon pathology.
Clinical Canine Massage Therapy
Before embarking on long-term antiinflammatory medications, Becky decided to explore clinical canine massage, a complementary remedial therapy.
Membership of the Canine Massage Guild requires a 2-year, rigorous training programme with the Canine Massage Therapy Centre Ltd, incorporating an integrated blend of 4 disciplines of massage: myofascial release, sports, deep tissue and Swedish in conjunction with the Lenton MethodÒ. A three-tiered approach, the Lenton Method combines advanced palpation skills, body-mapping, and an exclusive set of direct myofascial release protocols which has become so successful in the treatment of dogs that Winchester University are researching it as part of the worlds first clinical trials into canine massage therapy. Combined with a deep understanding of canine anatomy and physiology, the application of these various techniques, strokes, stretches and releases, specifically developed for the canine anatomy, aims to address myofascial pain, rehabilitate soft tissue injuries and manage chronic pain for dogs living with orthopaedic conditons, with results usually seen within 1 to 3 sessions.
Just a little bit about Rescue Greyhounds
Just as some breeds of dogs are more predisposed to certain orthopaedic conditions than others, as Canine Massage therapists we tend to find similar patterns of musculoskeletal issues and injuries across canine athletes and sporting dogs, often specifically dependent on their particular discipline, Greyhound racing, for example.
A life on the racing track for Greyhounds is no picnic, often marred by injury, overexertion, and pain. It’s no wonder when you consider their career starts at the tender age of 15 months and they reach speeds of up to 45mph. Looking at their anatomy and physiology, we can see why they make great racers, but also why they tend to suffer with certain injuries. Greyhounds carry 55% of their body weight in muscle, which is 10% more than any other breed of dog, so it’s no surprise that muscular injuries are common. Whilst their forelimbs control their direction and act as shock absorbers, their hind limb muscles are much larger in order to produce the power and drive needed to create high speeds. Their specific anatomical conformation combined with a number of external risk factors for injury, e.g., always racing in an anticlockwise direction and on a camber, the varying structure and conditions of the racetracks themselves, and the multiple collisions they sustain with their competitors, we start to see a number of specific muscular and ligament sprains, and even orthopaedic fractures are quite common.
Knowing Fleur’s likely background was useful. I was able to approach her treatment sessions knowing that in addition to the suspected Biceps Brachii tendon pathology, there would probably be other old or latent musculoskeletal issues and injuries that would also need addressing, and also where I was most likely to find them. If you’ve had the pleasure of rehoming a rescue Greyhound, you may have noticed that they’re touch sensitive to specific areas of their body. This can be an indication that they are carrying an old injury from their racing days.
As with any first treatment session, we started with an in-depth consultation, discussing Fleur’s veterinary history (as far as was known), her diet and supplements, as well as her lifestyle and day-to-day activities including exercise levels and routine. We discussed Becky’s desired outcomes from the treatments so that they could be tailored accordingly. She hoped for improved mobility by resolving or reducing the frequency of the right forelimb lameness and in doing so, help Fleur’s pain management and avoid the need for anti-inflammatories.
As part of the initial assessment I took time to observe Fleur’s gait, watching her move around the house and in the garden. I noticed the right forelimb lameness, albeit very subtle at that time. Prior to starting treatment, I carried out a superficial palpation, feeling for any changes in temperature, texture, and tone, areas of tenderness, injury, scarring, spasm, knots and trigger points. As I began to palpate the muscles and soft tissue, it became evident that Fleur had a number of muscular issues, including:
Strain – a painful tear to the muscle or the tendon which joins the muscle to the bone, as a result of overstretching or overloading. Fleur had acquired a Grade 2 superficial pectoral strain with associated scar tissue on her right forelimb.
Myofascial Pain –Fascia is the 3D cobweb of connective tissue that envelopes every muscle, organ, and bone in the body and provides a surface for the muscles to slide and glide over one another during movement. However, when adhesions occur, fascia becomes restricted and dysfunctional, clamping down over the muscles and reducing or inhibiting this slide and glide action, causing stiffness and reduced mobility, which is often associated wide radiating pain. Fleur had myofascial restrictions through her quadriceps and hamstring muscles as well as wide radiating myofascial pain over the thorax.
Trigger Points - When restrictive adhesions build up between the muscle fibres over time, usually as a result of repetitive strain and micro-trauma, they can form a trigger point. Hyperirritable bands within a muscle, trigger points can cause debilitating levels of pain and faux muscle fatigue. Fleur had palpable active trigger points on the rhomboid, teres major, and latissimus dorsi muscles bilaterally, and the tensor fascia lata muscle on the right.
Hypertonicity - Persistent stress on a muscle can lead to hypertonicity, a state where there is too much resting tone in the muscle fibres, decreasing their ability to lengthen and contract efficiently and thus inhibiting normal movement. Fleur had several areas of hypertonicity but most notably over her Iliocostalis muscles through her lower back.
Owners are often concerned about whether their dog will stay still or be cooperative when having massage. We recognise that it’s a whole new experience for most dogs so its important to give the dog and empathy, after all, dogs experience pain just like us, it’s just they are better at hiding it. They don’t know what to expect or what is expected of them, so we prefer to give them as much choice as possible. Often, it’s just about giving them the time to understand the process and also discovering their preferred set-up. For her first treatment, Fleur preferred to be treated in her bed on the floor. She responded well to massage and the next two sessions were on the couch where interestingly she relaxed much more quickly and deeply which her owner found fascinating and also reassuring.
A Word about Muzzles
People who are ignorant about how muzzles can be helpful in our work may throw their hands up in horror when we say that we use them occasionally, for two main reasons. The first, which surely must be simple to understand and appreciate, is that if a dog is touched somewhere tender they may react by snapping. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad or vicious dog. It’s easy enough for us humans to lash out if someone causes us therapeutic discomfort during a bodywork session, even when we know what is happening, which dogs of course do not. Owners with dogs that may tend to snap often ask us to muzzle their dogs – or bring a muzzle with them. Which owner wants their dog to nip someone? Especially someone trying to help them. It’s really important that owners are given credit for knowing their own dogs better than anyone and for professional therapists of any discipline to recognise this and respect an owners understanding.
The second reason is that muzzles calm scared, fearful, shy or anxious dogs. As clicker-training guru Karen Pryor says on her website ‘But, muzzles are not just for aggression anymore. It’s high time to dispel those negative mental images. Rather than vilifying muzzles, it’s time to appreciate muzzles for all the good things they can do for dogs.’ Muzzles are a standardised part of risk assessments for professional and responsible canine health professionals and as a professional therapist I, along with all Canine Massage Guild Members, respect the safety guidelines established by the veterinary industry
In Fleur’s case, the occasional use of a muzzle had a calming affect when I reached areas that she found uncomfortable. The difference was quite amazing.
Whilst I used a wide range of massage techniques across the three sessions, the myofascial release techniques from the Lenton Method®, in particular helped break down adhesions that were causing her widespread pain. They also resulted in improved mobility and there was a significant reduction in all restrictions across the three sessions.
As part of the treatment, Becky and I also discussed aftercare advice and devised a customised care plan to help manage Fleur’s underlying issues and keep her moving and feeling younger for longer. The plan covered avoiding excessive jumping on and off of furniture and in and out of the car to reduce the impact on her joints; considering a joint care supplement to protect her joints as she aged; using various forms of thermotherapy including ice application to her recurrent strains when acute, and applying heat to areas of hypertonicity to help soften the muscle tissue, both of which I demonstrated to Becky during the course of the treatments.
- Significantly improved mobility
- Less frequent episodes of right forelimb lameness
- Spring in her step
- Happier on walks
- Improved pain management and no need for anti-inflammatories
Following Fleur’s treatments, Becky said, “After just three massage sessions, I’ve noticed that Fleur has a greater freedom of movement, a spring in her step, and generally seems happier on her walks! Its been amazing that this has happened so quickly, something we didn’t expect. Fleur has also experienced less frequent episodes of right forelimb lameness since the start of the massage sessions, seeing her suffer in pain was hard so seeing such an improvement in both her mobility and demeanour has been astounding . She was also extremely relaxed and sleepy on the evenings after each treatment, not even stirring to ask for her dinner, which is most unlike her! We have been amazed at how this therapy has improved not just her quality of life but also her behaviour. I’d whole heartedly recommend this therapy to any dog owner, it’s quite simply life-chagning ”
Fleur is now a very content 11-year-old enjoying the quiet life in her family’s beautiful new home in the countryside. With woods and fields to explore for miles, her new found mobility through clinical canine massage therapy allows her to experience life to the full.
For more information on clinical canine massage therapy or to find your local therapist please visit www.k9-massageguild.co.uk
To contact Lindsay directly please visit www.pawvidatherapies.co.uk
For more information on Karen Pryor visit www.clickertraining.com