A recent survey found that 32% of agility dogs suffered from some kind of orthopedic lameness during the course of their training. Of these dogs, 53% of the lameness’s were caused by muscle or tendon injuries and further research has revealed that 32% of hind limb lameness involved the iliopsoas muscle group (Cullen, et al 2013, Carmichael, et al 2015). It’s clear that an injury to the iliopsoas muscle group is a common diagnosis, especially among working and sporting dogs. So what is the iliopsoas and how does it affect our dog’s performance?
The iliopsoas is a muscle group which functions as a hip flexor. Dogs who participate in sports or activities that involve a lot of jumping or movements with great hip extensions can aggravate the iliopsoas resulting in knocked bars, shortened jumps, and a skipping gait. An acute iliopsoas injury can occur when the muscle is “overstretched” - this can happen when your dog loses its footing while running or abruptly changing direction. The dog effectively “does the splits.”
What can predispose my dog to iliopsoas injuries?
What does an iliopsoas injury look like?
A serious iliopsoas injury usually presents with lameness but in mild cases you may only see a shortening of your dog’s stride, with the back legs not extending fully out behind the dog. This may be easier to see when your dog is moving at a faster speed or when jumping. In more chronic cases the iliopsoas may be tight and painful to stretch. Your dog’s posture may display a rounding of the low back with their back legs being bought closer to the front legs. There may be no obvious lameness and it may affect one or both back legs.
Rehabbing this Injury
While prevention is always the preferred method of managing injuries, they can still occur and in most cases need a course of rehabilitation. When dealing with this injury there are a number of ways I can help your dog get back onto the road to recovery. Research shows that early rehabilitation treatment is the best way to get your dog back to the activities they love – crate rest is on the way out!
To begin rehabbing this type of injury its important to remember that each dog and each case is different so an individualized approach must be taken to their management and care. A cookie cutter approach is never taken at MCR!
In the first phase of rehab, we want to manage your dog's pain as well as any range of motion or compensation issues they may be dealing with. Even though we are addressing an iliopsoas injury, dogs have an amazing ability to compensate for this and can be experiencing pain in other areas of their body.
Treatment is focussed on: various hands on techniques (e.g. manual therapy, soft tissue release, myofascial release ) as well as the use of laser to promote healing.
Stage 2 of rehab focusses on early strengthening/stretching with progressive foundation exercises. Many of these exercises will target the core and small stabilizer muscles. You may wonder if it safe to exercise this early in their rehabilitation process? The answer is YES!!! Tendons need load and work to properly heal so introducing your dog to basic exercises is critical in this stage.
The goal of Stage 3 is to get your dog back to being functional. Emphasis is placed on additional and more challenging exercises via a weekly exercise program that further challenges the dog and their muscles. Depending on your dog and their goals, they may stay at this level for quite some time!
Stage Four and Return to Sport
The final stage of rehabilitation involves high level conditioning work and return to sport. Dogs in this phase are working on an elite conditioning program to successfully return them to normal performance activity.
Following this progressive rehabilitation program will enable your dog to return to pre-injury activities and prevent re-occurrence. The rehabilitation process takes time and patience and no two dogs are alike. This injury can vary from mild to severe with very different length of recovery timelines (weeks to months). Working with a health care practitioner is vital to your dog reaching their goals.
With the help of MCR you can help reduce the chances of your dog experiencing an iliopsoas injury with an exercise prescription to address inflexibility, and strengthen of core muscles. If your dog is currently experiencing an iliopsoas injury, we can help, as the condition can be recurring in a persistent, chronic lameness if the muscle is not allowed to heal and rehabilitate. Message or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.