If your dog has suffered an injury you’ve probably wondered how soon you can return to normal activity or get back into the show ring. The answer to that question is not always straightforward or easy because each injury and every dog is unique. Returning too soon can risk re-injury or lead to the development of a chronic issue requiring a longer recovery time or preventing your dog from a full recovery. Waiting too long can result in loss of muscle and de-conditioning. If you're worried about the return to sport or concerned about re-injury then it may be time to review your rehabilitation plan.
An injury can happen in an instant or can develop slowly over time but it’s important to remember that regardless of how the injury occurred all you can do is move forward and acknowledge that recovery will take time and is likely to include some ups and downs. Your first step though is to seek out a rehabilitation professional that can determine the root of the problem. Without a clear and proper diagnosis, your treatment will not be effective. Once a plan has been established, treatment can move forward. Determining what type of injury your dog has will dictate how long the injury will take to heal (e.g. soft tissue, broken bone, muscle imbalance). Other than breaks or bony injuries, most musculoskeletal injuries can be broken down into one of three grades according to severity:
Different injuries have different healing times! Here is an excellent chart which shows the average healing time for different types of tissue injuries from River Canine Rehabilitation in Missouri. When dealing with an injury it is very easy to further injure patients if you do too much too soon. Knowing how muscles and tissues heal is important in helping prevent further injury.
Seeking out the help of canine rehabilitation professional, such as myself, can really set you and your dog up for success in recovering from their injury. With a diagnosis in hand you can start to figure out an appropriate treatment plan with time frames to recovery. The first goal is getting your dog pain free during daily activities - depending on the injury this could take either days, weeks, or months. During this time it's important to remember that REST is NOT REHAB! While many vets will recommend crate rest for your dog it's important that muscles still get activity to prevent atrophy. This is especially important for dogs looking to return to sport. Initial rehab is about limiting excessive movements and giving time for tissue to heal but controlled movement is still important in the healing process!
Once tissue has had some opportunity to heal the next step is progressive rehabilitation. I see a lot of owners who worry that an injury will reappear once the dog returns to sport. But progressive rehab is about setting your dog up for success by slowly pushing healing tissue. For example, last week we looked at the iliopsoas injury - for an injury such as this we wouldn't be asking your dog to perform sharp turns right away but would rather introduce slow, wide turns to stress healing tissue and test whether an injury will reoccur. We do this so that by the time you get back to the show ring you have the peace of mind and confidence in knowing your dog's injury has fully healed and can meet the demands of their sport.
Treatment for injury is not always surgery but may instead rely on medicated pain relief and conservative therapies such as manual therapy, laser therapy, acupuncture, and exercise rehabilitation. The basic premise of any conditioning and rehabilitation program is progressive loading.
There are several factors to consider as part of progression
Once muscles fall into a comfort zone and workouts are no longer challenging the body begins to plateau and stops building muscle. Unchallenged muscles can also begin to degrade; limiting your dog's recovery. To continue challenging our dog's healing tissue we need to add other demands to the musculoskeletal system. This continues to build muscle and allows us to see if the existing injury will reappear with increased demands. There are several ways we can add challenge to a workout:
It always takes time to put all these individual parts together but working through a progressive rehab program is crucial to getting your dog back to the show ring. Recovery from an injury can be a long and confusing process. Having specific guidance from a trusted rehabilitation professional can make the world of a difference at getting your canine companion back to their old self again and to the activities they love.