Remedial exercises are prescribed by a physiotherapist following treatment as a means of further stretching, strengthening and toning muscle. There are a huge variety of exercises available to use, many of which can be adapted to suit all stages of rehabilitation and ability of an animal. This allows each individual to obtain the maximum benefits from their personalised exercise programme.
It is generally well known that remedial exercise can provide great results for animals undergoing rehabilitation from injury or chronic conditions however, it is also extremely beneficial in athletic or working animals as a means to enhance performance and provide support to areas which are under stress following high levels of activity. The beauty of remedial exercise is that it is extremely versatile and so the way in which an exercise is performed (repetitions, frequency, aids) can be tailored to suit an animal’s ability and its individual needs.
Remedial exercises involve the repeated use of targeted muscles and therefore facilitate the strengthening of those muscles. Through starting an exercise at low intensity and low frequency, we can gradually build up the number of repetitions and increase the difficulty of the exercise, increasing muscular use. As use of a muscle increases, naturally so will the strength as the number of proteins which are made within a muscle is heightened. This allows more muscle cells to be produced and therefore muscle size and strength to increase. As strength is increased, use of the muscle becomes easier and therefore more common, facilitating more strengthening of that muscle. For example, in cases of cranial cruciate rupture in dogs, muscle loss is commonly seen through the quadriceps muscles as use of the stifle joint is decreased. Performing sit to stand exercises in which the dog must put weight through the leg as a means to raise itself into a standing position and lower itself into a seated position will influence use of the muscle group, allowing for an increase in strength. As the muscle becomes stronger and can support the unstable stifle joint, the dog is more inclined to use the limb. Use of the limb further strengthens the muscle and a cycle of muscle strengthening begins. This improves lameness score, increasing the chances of return to full or nearly full function of the limb.
Use of remedial exercise in sporting or working animals who already have a lot of muscular strength can complement the muscle gained from regular training. Performing remedial exercise can, not only supply some alternative form of mental stimulation, but it can also be used to make sure that strengthening of the muscles is occurring in the correct way to support the body as needed, depending on the job of the animal. This is done by correcting limb placement and assessing ‘squareness’, allowing the animal to strengthen muscle in a way that is most beneficial to itself and what is being asked of it.
Muscles that become contracted, tight and sore can benefit greatly from remedial exercise. Following a physiotherapy session such muscles have been loosened and stretched through the use of manual therapies, making the animal more comfortable and providing the potential for improved function and performance. The key word here is potential. This is because, in order for such benefits to be obtained, it is the repeated action of stretching and strengthening through remedial exercises that will provide those long-lasting effects. The use of remedial exercise allows the elongation of muscle fibres and prevention of further contractions and adhesions, which can restrict range of motion and cause areas of pain and discomfort. Baited stretches are a fantastic example of remedial exercise which prevents such issues, and they can be performed with both horses and dogs. Through the left and right movement of the head and neck, we create an effective stretch down the muscles which run alongside the spine. These commonly become tightened following poor saddle fit or through compensation for issues in the lower limbs, and so stretching of these can help to improve spinal range of motion and increase comfort.
Baited stretches have the added bonus of allowing an increase in core strength, which further helps the animal to support the rest of its body, allowing for further improvements in performance and/or return to normal function.
Further stretching can take place with both the fore and hind limbs. Gradual stretching can lengthen muscle fibres, increasing their elasticity. Such changes can lead to an increase in stride length and joint range of motion, improving the productivity and efficacy of work and performance.
Some remedial exercises have the benefit of improving the speed at which signals travel from the limbs to the brain and back again. This can be particularly helpful in sporting animals who must be aware of their limb placement in order to prevent injury, as well as in older animals who may have begun to slow down and are vulnerable to slips and trips. The use of poles can provide excellent results in both horses and dogs as touching a pole with a paw or hoof provides both physical and audible sensory feedback. Increased knocks of a pole should encourage the animal to think how they could avoid doing the same on the next attempt and so, if used correctly, the knocking of poles should reduce as the repetition of pole work exercises increase. Note in the below video how, after knocking the first pole, the horse increases his stride length and flexes more through his limbs to ensure he doesn't knock the second pole. Following a knock of the third pole, he again alters his movement to prevent knocking the final pole. This is a great demonstration of how, in many cases, this sensory feedback provides an instant response.
Poles are also great tools for increasing joint range of motion as an animal must flex its joints accordingly in order to move over the pole. Advancements can be made by raising one side of the pole, followed by both sides in order to further improve range of motion. All the while, such actions will increase strength of both the flexor and extensor muscles of the limb, as well as increasing core strength – a win-win!!
The list of benefits of remedial exercise goes on and on with this blog only providing a glimpse of how versatile the exercises can be, and how they are suited to so many different cases. It is however vital to remember that not all remedial exercises suit every animal. It is therefore important to discuss exercise plans with a qualified physiotherapist before carrying out an exercise. This can also prevent the over-doing of exercises as this can have adverse effects. To find out more, please do not hesitate to contact BFH Veterinary Physiotherapy. All contact details can be found on our website: www.bfhveterinaryphysiotherapy.co.uk