There are five types of tissues that may sustain an injury and need the expertise of a Physiotherapist to treat them. The tissues include muscle, ligament, intra-articular structures (such as meniscus and cartilage), joint capsules, and bone. It is essential for a thorough understanding of the physiological mechanisms of healing of these tissues in order to progress and manage rehabilitation following injury. During their racing careers, Greyhounds frequently injury one or more of these tissues and in many cases, the injury is never properly treated in the first place. This can result in a chronic injury that takes a lot longer to heal or indeed, needs managing for life. During this article we will look at strains, sprains and some gentle exercises you can perform with your dog to help keep them moving and strong for life.
Muscle is composed of two components – contractile muscle fibres and elastic connective tissues and tendons. When muscle voluntarily contracts, the connective tissues absorb and dissipate the energy of the contraction, allowing for smooth and supple movement (Nordin & Frankel, 1989). When the muscle passively lengthens, the elastic component lengthens first followed by the junction between the muscle and the tendon. By understanding these mechanical properties, it assists the Physiotherapist in determining if one or both muscle components are involved in the injury, and then applying the correct treatment (Zink & Van Dyke, 2013).
A muscle strain is the stretching or tearing of contractile muscle fibres. Strains occur for one of two reasons: either it has been stretched beyond its limit or it has been forced to contract too strongly. In mild cases, only a few fibres are affected. Muscles may feel a little sore and tight for a day or two, but the muscle remains strong and intact. In severe cases, the muscle may be so badly torn that it is unable to function. In order to classify the degree of damage, a simple grading system is used:
- Grade I strain.In this mild strain, only a few muscle fibres are stretched or torn. Although the injured muscle is tender and painful, it has normal strength.
- Grade II strain.This is a moderate strain, with a greater number of injured fibres and more severe muscle pain and tenderness. There is also mild swelling, noticeable loss of strength and sometimes a bruise.
- Grade III strain.This strain tears the muscle all the way through, sometimes causing a “pop” sensation as the muscle rips into two separate pieces or shears away from its tendon. Grade III strains are serious injuries that cause complete loss of muscle function, as well as considerable pain, swelling, tenderness and discoloration. Because Grade III strains usually cause a sharp break in the normal outline of the muscle, there may be an obvious “dent” or “gap” under the skin where the ripped pieces of muscle have come apart.
Signs and Symptoms
- Pain and tenderness on movement but eases with rest
- Muscle swelling, discolouration or both
- Muscle cramping or spasm
- Possibly decreased strength or loss of function (especially so in a grade III strain)
- An audible ‘pop’ at the time of injury
- A gap, dent or change in the normal contour of the muscle in a grade III tear.
If you suspect your dog (or you) has sustained a muscle strain, rest, ice (cold pack – do not apply ice directly to the skin), compression and elevate the limb. This can be done by getting your dog into side lying (with the painful side up) and place the upper leg on a cushion. If pain persists, please seek veterinary (or medical) attention.
Sprains are injuries sustained to ligaments. Ligaments are non-contractile tissues that prevent excessive motion at joints. When the external force on the ligament exceeds the physiological load (i.e. the force it is designed to withhold), disruption to the fibres results. Again, a grading system is used to classify the degree of injury:
- Grade I sprain. Ligament fibres sustain micro tearing that present without pain or instability.
- Grade II sprain. Grade II tears produce significant pain and minor to moderate joint instability.
- Grade III sprain. Grade III sprains are severely painful at onset. The pain will subside, but the joint remains very unstable. Any instability caused by ligament damage in grade II and III injuries can lead to further fibre disruption, excessive pressure on the joint capsule and increased force on tendons and articular cartilage. It is essential that sprain injuries are managed appropriately from the outset.
Initial treatment is the same as a strain, but should you suspect your dog has a muscle or ligament injury, it is important to seek veterinary advice and ideally a consultation with a qualified Physiotherapist. Many of the injuries I see in a greyhound clinic occurred before the dog was retired so complications and chronicity of the condition have to be managed.
On occasions, your dog may experience muscle spasm. In such circumstances your dog may appear very painful on movement and possibly lame (limping). If a back muscle is affected, you may see your dog’s posture be arched up through its back. It is important to get your dog checked by a veterinary professional but application of a heat pack and massage to the affected area may help loosen off the spasming muscle. If no significant injury is diagnosed, the treat stretches outlined below can be great for getting your dog moving and flexible again.
Exercises for your Hound
Whether you are rehabilitating your dog or just wanting to keep them strong, supple and happy, there are many exercises we can do at home that are fun and effective. Being
inventive is always fun and have a look for bits of equipment you have lying around the house – you’ll be surprised at what you can use.
Treat stretches are great to do for your dog as the work on joint and soft tissue flexibility as well as stability and balance. These can be done every day or several times a week. I tend to recommend doing them before a meal time, using some of their meal as ‘bait’. We don’t need chubby pups as a result of eating too many treats!!
3/2 Point Standing
This is fantastic for stability and strength. Stand your dog square then pick up one foot at a time. Try and hold the 3-legged stance for 10 seconds, then pick up another foot. When this is easy, pick up diagonal feet (i.e. left fore, right hind). The dog has to stabilise much more this was. You can make it harder still by standing them on a soft surface, slope etc.
Bosu Balls/ Wobble Cushion
Standing with the front feet up on a step on a wobble cushion/ bosu ball is a great way of stretching the hip flexors, working on dynamic stability and strengthening through the hind limbs. Add in a few treat stretches or cushion under the hind limbs at the same time, and you will really make your dog work!
Cavellettis are a great way of working on proprioception (awareness of where you are in space), limb range of motion, core stability and strengthening. Always start with 3 or 4 poles and increase the number as able. You can place them at different heights, progress to trot once they can do it well in walk, place on a circle, on a slope, be inventive!! You don’t need anything fancy – just use garden canes, broom/mop handles, whatever you can find. It is also great for lead work and mental stimulation. 5-10 mins of this and your hound will need another sleep!
Should you suspect a muscle or ligament injury, please avoid the beach until your dog is assessed. Unstable surfaces can make the injury much worse.
These are just some examples of exercise you can do at home with your dog. It is important to stress that if your dog has an injury, please get it assessed by a qualified professional before you undertake any of the exercises outline above.
Please feel free to contact me on 0423 493 130 or firstname.lastname@example.org should you have any questions or queries.
Lynne Harrison BSc (Hons), MSc (Vet. Phty)
APAM MCSP ACPAT Cat.A
- Nordin, M. & Frankel, V. (1989) Basic Biomechanics of the Musculoskeletal System, Lea & Febiger, Philadelphia
- Zink, M. & Van Dyke, J. (2013) Canine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, Wiley- Balckwell, Oxford